National research commissioned by The Good Foundation has revealed that 71% of Australian kids aged 3-17 are not getting the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables, with less than a third eating veggies every night.

Knowing this, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food and The Good Foundation are embarking on a mission to put fun back into fresh food and change the eating habits of kids nationwide – and they could be coming to your school!

Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg is an evidence based hands-on food education program for primary schools and early learning centres. By teaching children simple to follow, quick to prepare recipes using Jamie’s signature tips and shortcuts, it engages and excited kids about fresh food.

“The program is playful, colourful and collaborative, and focuses on four seasonal ingredients per term – whether they’re carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, etc. – as the hero food,” says Amy Smith, CEO of The Good Foundation. “Kids taste and smell the foods, learn about where they grow and where they come from, and even how to plant them.”

Amy explains that the children learn basic cooking skills, including how to use safety knives and how to use a chopping board without slipping, before making a meal with the focus ingredient.

“We’re teaching a lot of things that kids haven’t really experienced before at home. Many kids in the pilot program had never seen certain veggies or learned about bananas and other fruits – one child asked, ‘how did you shrink the tomato?’ when we cooked with cherry tomatoes,” Amy says. “We’re finding that while the child might be disinterested in the ingredient on its own, they end up loving the finished meal and want to take it home with them.”

Alarmingly, Australian kids only consume veggies with dinner 5 times a week on average, when the government’s dietary guidelines recommend five serves of vegetables per day.

While the root cause of this is complex and varied, Australian parents attribute increasingly busy lifestyles and the ease and accessibility of packaged, ‘convenience’ dinners and takeaway food as strong contributors. 62% of families surveyed agreed that “some nights you just have to serve comfort food to keep the family happy.”

But, of course, ‘comfort food’ doesn’t have to be unhealthy – with the right knowledge and skills, it can be quick and easy to cook meals that are yummy, comforting and healthy.

“At its simplest, Learn Your Fruit and Veg is about celebrating fresh produce and all the delicious things you can make with veg and fruit,” says Jamie Oliver. “Any extra support we can give teachers, parents and families to get kids engaged in cooking from scratch – giving them the skills to feed themselves well – takes us all one step closer to a happier, healthier future.”

Amy agrees, adding that she and the program facilitators had assumed a level of food literacy in primary school and were shocked to find that it wasn’t there.

“The majority of children don’t understand that food can provide them with energy and vitamins, and many had little understanding of fresh food,” Amy says. “It was interesting to find that a lot of the kids aren’t allowed to play with food at home, so when they were given the opportunity touch it and familiarise themselves with it in a context where it was playful and collaborative and creative, and they were with their friends, we saw a big shift.”

Schools who have participated in the program already found that the ease of use was amazing, Amy says, with the set-up, education and clean up all done by the facilitators. The program also works with the curriculum in the school system, incorporating fractions, geography and links to other subjects that the kids are learning about at the time.

Schools and learning centres interested in offering the program within their community can register to be matched with facilitators in their area. Those interested in becoming a Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg facilitator can register for online training.

For more information and to sign up visit www.jamiesministryoffood.com.au

Anastasia White

Anastasia White  

Anastasia (‘Anny’ to her friends and family, thanks to some nickname experimentation in year 4 that unfortunately stuck) is a born-and-bred Brisbanite with a love of coffee and her cat, Olive. Having recently finished a degree in journalism, Anastasia loves being able to learn and write about so many different topics for a variety of audiences.