A Hamilton school has become a shining example of how to motivate students and their families to make healthier food choices.
With support from Sport Waikato’s Project Energize staff, Melville Primary School has successfully integrated gardening, meal planning, cooking, nutrition and knowledge of the seasons into their curriculum, all while growing their own produce.
“It’s been heartening to see how passionate the teachers and children have been throughout this process, and seeing these messages taken home to share with friends and whaanau,” says Sport Waikato Energizer Melissa Shea.
“They’ve learnt how to grow their own vegetables, how to cook healthy meals using home-grown produce, what each food group does for different parts of their bodies and the optimal number of daily servings.
“They now have a deep understanding of why it’s important to give their bodies the right fuel and, most importantly, are motivated to make healthy food choices.”
The students’ learnings culminated in Melville Primary School’s annual Kai Festival last term where the wider community turned out to trial a selection of home-made creations. There was a variety of healthy alternatives to food traditionally sold at the festival on offer, including healthy hamburgers, watermelon pizza, rainbow salad and waffles with a healthy twist.
As a way of capturing the nutritional value of food, the school had developed a star rating system earlier in the term and these were on display at each stall – 3 stars (an everyday choice), 2 stars (a sometimes choice) and 1 star (an occasional choice).
Melissa says the challenge was overcoming expectations about traditional event food, yet the fundraising event attracted record numbers and sales.
“With the children taking home their knowledge, they’ve not only developed healthy eating habits, increased self-confidence, pride in their environment and their own achievements, but are sharing these learnings with friends and whaanau which results in wider community benefit,” says Melissa.
Discussions are already under way for next year’s festival with the school looking into seasonal produce growing calendars so they can plan their gardens around what they’ll need to, once again, create healthy food for their stalls. They’ve also indicated they’d like to adopt Sport Waikato's nutrition policy.
Melville Primary School Deputy Principal, Bronwyn Haitana, says the spin-off from the initiative has been far reaching.
“In the 25 years I’ve been teaching, this is by far the most rewarding piece of teaching and learning I have been involved in,” she says.