‘For the Love of Veg’ initiative aims to sow the seeds for healthy eating in school canteens

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

With only six per cent of Australian kids aged between two and 17-years-old eating their recommended daily amount of vegetables, the launch of a national initiative aims to get more veggies in school canteens and tuck shops across the nation.

The program will draw on the networks and expertise provided by the Canteen Consortium, which includes five leading canteen associations and networks across Australia that are able to reach primary schools nationwide.

The Canteen Consortium has been successful in receiving funding for this project through Hort Innovation, which is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.

The project will be led by the Healthy Kids Association in NSW in partnership with the Western Australian School Canteen Association (WASCA), Queensland Association of School Tuckshops Inc. (QAST), School Food Matters in Tasmania (SFM), the ACT Nutrition Support Service (ACTNSS) and The George Institute for Global Health.

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Making veggies easier to access (and learn to love)

Over the next three years, primary school tuck shops and canteens all over Australia will be actively engaged in a range of ways – all designed to transform students’ attitudes to eating their daily serves of veggies. These initiatives will include the promotion of recipe portals, meal kits, and ready-to-serve meals.

For Hort Innovation chief executive officer, Brett Fifield, the aim to spark a lifelong love of veggies in Aussie kids and increase the amount and type of veggies kids eat will create sustainable flow-on benefits to their families, as well as the vegetable growers across Australia.

Healthy Kids Association senior project manager and Accredited Practising Dietitian Shadia Djakovic says the goal is to create long-term healthy eating habits around eating vegetables.

In an ideal world, Ms Djakovic says, “we would love for school canteens across the country to have a school menu that provides vegetables in at least 30 per cent of the menu items”.

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“That includes meals where veggies aren’t hidden, so children know what they’re eating and they know that they taste great,” she told The Bursar.

Popular school canteen menu favourites wouldn’t need to disappear, she says, but they could be amended to be more veggie-rich. By replacing one-third of the dairy and meat in meals such as spaghetti Bolognese or fried rice meals, by using caramelised onion and other vegetables, incorporating more vegetables into school canteen classics is easy – and effective, Ms Djakovic told The Bursar.

“We know that exposing kids to a particular food 10 times leads to acceptance of that,” she says.

More vegetables mean healthier kids

AUSVEG chief executive officer Michael Coote said the vegetable industry is pleased to invest through Hort Innovation to boost demand for fresh, healthy vegetables – and improve the health of Aussie school students.

“As growers, we know how beneficial eating vegetables is for your health and well-being. As an industry, we work tirelessly to ensure that the veggies that reach Aussie families are fresh and packed with nutrients,” Mr Coote said. “We look forward to seeing this program getting kids excited about vegetables by giving them the place they deserve on the school canteen menu.”

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Beyond this launch, Ms Djakovic told The Bursar she’d like to see basic nutrition taught in schools by linking it to the Australian Curriculum, with the teachings reinforced through the school canteen.

“It’s really important that we get this project right and achieve our outcomes for the project,” Ms Djakovic says. “That means we will be doing a needs assessment of the school canteens’ needs, and where the gaps are, to determine what kind of resources they need to achieve these outcomes. It may be anything from kitchen hacks to make veggies easier to prepare, to connecting school canteens to local distributors and coops, to webinars on minimising food (vegetable) waste in the school canteen.”

Healthy Kids Association offer free nutrition resources for primary school teachers. Teachers and families in NSW can register for Fruit and Veg Month, which started on Monday, 28 August.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live