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Q: Food is such a big part of children’s lives. Why is it so important to get nutrition right while children are at school and preschool?

Fuelled4life (F4L): Childhood is when we form the habits of a lifetime. Sure, we can make changes when we’re adults, but if we aim to have healthy habits from the beginning we’re laying strong foundations for a healthy population. As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure.

Since babies, toddlers and young children can only eat what they are given, the responsibility lies with all of their carers, including those at the early learning service, to ensure that what children are given meets their nutritional needs.

Many children spend a large part of their day at an early learning service, so it is important that the food provided is nutritionally adequate.

Q: Many schools have canteens or lunch order systems. What advice do you have for schools in trying to improve their food systems and environment?

F4L: Ask and involve the students – they are the customers! This could include offering taste testers of new menu items.

Survey the wider school community for their thoughts and ideas, this helps obtain buy-in from parents.

Check the school nutrition policy to ensure the food service aligns with goals and strategies within the policy.

Even small improvements are to be celebrated. Maybe you swap to a lower-salt sauce option or change your combo deal from a pie to a burger. Every little bit helps.

When it comes to school canteens, it is a good idea to connect the canteen with students and the Board of Trustees, focusing on a win-win approach.

Fuelled4life has worked with a number of food suppliers and ordering systems to support them to provide healthier options. You can see the current list of Fuelled4Life Fresh made suppliers here. Here are some ideas and tips on how to choose an external supplier that best meets your school’s needs.

Q: How can theFuelled4life programme help schools with this?

F4L: Whether schools have a lunch order, a school canteen or are a simply a lunchbox school, Fuelled4Life can assist them all.

Sample menus, how to choose a healthy external food supplier, lunchbox tips and ideas, packaging solutions, becoming water-only, catering tips and checklists – we’ve got resources for it all.

We have Nutrition Advisors around the country who can give practical support to schools and early learning services who are looking to improve their food and nutrition environment. They understand what it’s like to feed children and have the nutrition knowledge to help improve recipes and menus. The LearnbyHeart Contact Us page has the contact details of local Nutrition Advisors.

Q: Can you tell us about any example where Fuelled4life is helping schools make positive changes to their canteen and lunch order systems?

F4L: Fuelled4life has an ongoing relationship with Libelle, one of the biggest providers of canteen services across New Zealand.

In term 4, 2018, Libelle trialled a Fuelled4life approved menu in its Marlborough region schools.  With our nutrition advice and support, Libelle reformulated recipes, substituted healthier ingredients, reduced sugary drinks and snacks, and removed pastry items. This new and exciting menu is now nationwide in all 60 Libelle-managed school canteens.

Changes in ordering and payment technology over the last few years mean there’s even more opportunity these days for suppliers to provide food to schools. We can support suppliers who may be new to the schools environment.

Q: What sorts of things can schools do to help kids develop healthy eating habits while keeping it fun?

F4L: There are so many ways that nutrition can become part of what’s going on in class without being the focus. The topics of sustainability, gardening and health are all intertwined. You can also look at subjects like science, writing and maths through a nutrition lens. For example, write a creative story describing how it feels to eat an apple, work out how many teaspoons of sugar are in that drink, or read these labels and compare which has more fibre.

The Heart Foundation works with Foodstuffs to deliver their programme called Food for Thought. This is nutrition education aimed at year 5 and 6 students that includes a supermarket visit. Our Nutrition Advisors lead these sessions so that teachers don’t have to.

Give clear and consistent healthy eating messages. This is as simple as using non-food-based rewards in the classroom and encouraging fruit breaks during class time.

Enlist the help of students to plan healthy class lunch celebrations or decide on healthy food for the canteen.

Q: Do you have any success stories that you’d like to share of working with schools to improve nutritional awareness among kids?

F4L: Our Hawkes Bay Nutrition Advisor witnessed a number of positive changes since leading a Food for Thought session at a local school.

“I delivered Food for Thought to three year 5 and 6 classes in Term 2. This was well received by the students and the teachers. I was invited back for the healthy lunch which they ran as a My Kitchen Rules competition which I judged.

“During the hour I was at the competition I spoke with the teachers and the students and there was a lot of positive feedback and comments about changes made at home and at school. All three classroom teachers and their support staff noted that there was a positive change in lunchboxes with much less packaged food and an increase in fruit in particular.

“The teachers are hearing comments in the playground as well as in the classroom about the changes at home, in particular around much less sugary drinks and in some cases no more sugary drinks in the house.

“Some whanau have spoken with the teachers and have welcomed the nutritional learning and label reading that the children have learnt and shared with them and they have made changes around breakfast cereals, drinks, changing to wholemeal/wholegrain bread and trying to increase fruit and vegetable consumption for themselves as well as their children.”

Q: How can schools help communicate the healthy message with families and whanau?

F4L: That can vary depending on your local community, but our Nutrition Advisors are here to help. If you don’t have a school food policy, consulting with whanau to develop a policy is a good starting point and can help with buy-in once it’s implemented.

Schools can also like our Fuelled4life Facebook page, and share our posts on your own school Facebook page or school newsletter, to share the message with families.

Schools, teachers, parents and canteen staff can sign up to our quarterly newsletters and check our website for resources, tips, recipes and ideas.

Use Fuelled4life resources to help you with your next school event involving the community – galas, quiz nights and other fundraising events.

For more information visit Fuelled4Life.

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