The biggest epidemic to threaten New Zealand children this century is obesity. In New Zealand, one in nine children (aged 2-14 years) are identified as obese and we rank as the third most obese nation in the OECD. In addition, a further 21% of kids are considered to be overweight. They are figures that will have an impact on our children’s health, both now and into the future.
We are a nation of food lovers. Our seafood, meat and fruit are world-class and we love nothing more than to boast about our fresh and bountiful produce. But our eating habits are far from ideal. We covet our Friday night fish and chips, we pile up our plates at all-you-can-eat buffets, and we consume ice-cream like no other nation on the planet! Occasional treats are great, but we are consuming these “treats” all too often and forgetting what our bodies really need to be healthy. And our kids are watching us.
Grow, harvest and prepare
Getting kids to make brave food choices with fresh food they grow, harvest and prepare is part of the mission of the Empower food education programme. They are marking World Obesity Day on 11th of October with a great vegetarian pizza recipe that kids will love making and eating (recipe below).
The Empower programme, run by not-for-profit partners Garden to Table and Life Education Trust, equips Kiwi kids with practical, hands-on knowledge about nutrition and growing food. It was launched in March this year and already, schools all over the country have signed up.
Garden to Table Ambassador Niki Bezzant says one of the keys to solving the obesity crisis is education. “It’s a big part of the picture when it comes to helping the next generation live longer, healthier lives than us. Programmes like Empower, that help kids join the dots between growing, cooking and feeling good, are crucial.”
Food education programmes recommended by World Health Organization
In fact, food education programmes like Empower were recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in a 2016 report on ending childhood obesity. The report said nutrition and health education must be included in school curriculums, and to make food preparation classes available to children, their parents and caregivers.
Life Education Trust Chief Executive John O’Connell said through classroom and practical hands-on learning, Empower is designed to equip and empower children with the knowledge of a balanced diet, meal planning, key nutrients and how to grow food.
“The WHO’s report on ending childhood obesity identified the importance of teaching children in schools about nutrition, and also food preparation. We support teachers to integrate NZ Curriculum-linked resources into their teaching – both inside and outside of the classroom. Schools don’t need huge vegetable gardens or commercial kitchens to get involved either,” he says.
Make eating vegetables a joy
One of the most effective ways to make a difference to our children’s health is to make eating fresh, nourishing food a joy, Garden to Table Executive Officer Linda Taylor says.
“It’s easy and fun to include seasonal veges in your cooking, and letting children take the lead can be a great way to get them involved. We’re looking forward to seeing the creative ways children have prepared Niki’s pizza recipe, using lots of veges.”
Try this great vegetarian pizza recipe created by Garden to Table Ambassador, Niki Bezzant.
Find out more
To find out more about the Empower food education programme, visit their website, empowerkids.org.nz.