We recently went along to Halfway Nursery Infant School who contacted us to help them out with educating the children about eating healthy. After a few discussions we agreed on a project brief of "For the children to learn to make healthier food choices and learn that healthy food choices can be just as tasty as unhealthy ones"
The project would in total see Nourish present in front of 180 children ranging from 3 to 7 years old.
The aim of the sessions were for the children to engage with the Nourish staff and look at different food and drink items and be able to identify whether it came from a plant, tree, the see, the ground or was an animal or whether in fact it was manufactured in a factory. The basis for using this was so children could relate to where food came from and that the basis of a healthy diet should be made up from foods which come from the ground, plants, trees, the sea and animals. Additionally we wanted to think about why foods which were made in a factory were often not the healthiest in comparison to those which do not.
Another key goal was for the children to understand the benefits of eating a healthy diet and why this was important as well as what issues could occur from consistently eating a unhealthy diet. We were careful to ensure that the focus remained on positivity over highlighting 'bad' foods.
We also wanted the children to try a range of different foods including fruits and yoghurt they may not have tried before, this would engage them with different flavour profiles and open up more discussion points too as well as encouraging them to be open to trying new healthy foods.
Above all we wanted to make the sessions fun and engaging, this was a challenge for us but one we as a whole team really enjoying tackling. We decided to use a variety of methods including picture cards to help the children visualise the key points and messages.
What we did
After a quick introduction about who we were and what Nourish is all about the children were then asked to identify 4 logo's (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC), to which they all did with ease and general excitement and smiles. As you can imagine, we'd prefer this not to be the case, but we understand these things can't be changed over night.
The air of excitement dropped once we'd fully explained Nourish was a healthy fast food restaurant which sold salads, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and healthy snacks and not a burger or pizza joint!
Following this we went through a series of picture cards which can be seen below. We used one's which showed typical customers at Nourish such as business people, office workers, key professionals, athletes and university students to highlight how healthy eating can help achieve different goals. We found that the majority of children raised their hands when asked if they saw their futures like those on the cards, with the aim being to show that key professionals choose to eat a healthy diet and it is a factor in being more productive.
We then looked at the reasons why it's important to eat healthy, we showed different picture cards such as running, healthy teeth, strong bones, bright smile and a healthy brain. The children used the picture cards to help them answer, which we explained the reasons behind them.
Next we briefly looked at why it is important not to have a diet just full of unhealthy foods and the health issues associated with these. We used cards which showed damaged teeth from too much sugar and of people with little energy to go and have fun. From here we moved on to food sources and used a number of cards to highlight where different foods came from. The children were asked where each food came from such as a plant, tree, animal or fish.
Once the children had been familiarised with the different foods and where they came from we moved on to a tasting activity. The children were sat at tables in groups of 4-5, all of which had a row of different prepared fruits ready to eat with a picture of where they came from. Each child was given a piece of paper which had a picture of each item. After tasting them the child put a tick next to if they liked it or not. The children were encouraged to try the new fruits and also take the paper home to show their parents which one's they liked and would enjoy eating more of. They were also asked for feedback on the texture, taste and freshness of the fruits too.
Once all of the foods had been tasted by the children we moved them on to the next task. We had set a table up with a selection of healthy foods such as oranges, banana, peppers, sweet potato, courgette, lettuce, chicken and salmon. We also included a selection of unhealthy foods such as chocolate bars, sweets, crisps and biscuits. At the end of each table we placed bag, one for the healthy foods to be placed in and one for the unhealthy foods to be placed in. The children had to choose a food item, say what it was, where it was from and then place it in the correct bag. In total there were 13 classes from nursery through to Year 2 (3-7 Year olds).
Pro's of the session
For the 20 minutes we were allocated, a lot of points were covered and delivered to the children.
The children were engaged all the way through, with different tasks, activities and questions to keep them alert.
The picture cards helped the structure of the session flow without any long pauses and uncertainty.
The feedback from the children showed that they understood the points of the session. All their answers were relative to the questions.
The exercises were short and varied to keep the children interested.
The children were able to correctly organise the healthy and unhealthy food items using the origin of where it came from.
Working in groups worked well. Able to talk to each child individually.
Should have used Greek yoghurt as natural was too tart for them
Needed more time than 20 minutes so could sum it up at the end to see what the children learnt. Needed more time to fit in the match up exercise
Use different food types to taste - include veg. Include drink choices
Didn’t reinforce the main point of the session enough, which was to think about where the food comes from every time they are faced with it.
What we learnt
It is very apparent that the likes of KFC and McDonalds still hold a special place for children, with them reacting positively to the fast food logos, it was obvious these places were seen as places associated with being treated.
At Nourish we're all about education, we see it as a pivotal and key element of improving the nations health, which is why we're launching our healthier schools based project to as many schools who want us to come along! We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the vast majority if children knew the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods and even the difference of food sources such as plants trees and a factory. This is a real positive, it shows children even at a young age know the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods. However, it does pose another question, in that if they know the difference, how do we move them eating a diet predominantly made up from healthy foods. The children in general were also able to answer the points as to why it's important to eat healthy foods, however they would have benefited more had we spent time going through a practical activity based around this.
In terms of keeping the children engaged, we learnt that splitting the sessions up in to different areas really helped and making sure not too much time was spent in each area, this helped to also keep the children focussed too. The picture cards also helped keep the children's attention too and were a good aid to trigger their thinking and help them answer the questions. The smaller groups ensured that even the quieter children were given a chance to speak and be involved with the activities.
How would we measure success?
As with any such project measuring success is key to not only ensuring our time is being well spent, but also if we're making a difference and also direct us to to what we can do in future ti improve what we are doing. Overall success would be the children heading off home with a renewed interest in healthy eating and deciding that McDonalds and the like were no longer going to be on the menu (maybe one day!), but as we're starting small, our measures of success were listening to children and having them answer the questions correctly about where foods come from and which are healthy and unhealthy.
Moving on from these, getting more feedback on the benefits of a healthy diet from the children would be a good measure, this would show that the children not only understand about healthy foods, but also why they should be eating more of it. Longer term it would be great to develop a longer term strategy we can hand over to teachers which would provide as a constant reminder of the sessions and topics covered. In an ideal world, we would be able to revisit each school each year and see how the children are progressing.
Another key measure of success was discussing the sessions with the teachers and support staff to see how they felt the children were interacting and understanding the activities and key points. Again, this is where follow up sessions would be of benefit, whereby the teachers could deliver further points and feedback to us about the success and any changes with the children.
What would we do differently?
For future sessions we would like to ensure the children have a summary of the key messages from the session that they could take away with them. We would also include a practical session based around what the children had learnt and why it's important to eat healthy foods.
With the current issues being highlighted around sugar, either pairing up with a dental practitioner or including more education around the damages which sugar can do would be a welcome addition. Using actual sugar to highlight the content in different foods, drinks and snacks would be a way reinforcing a key health message to the children.
Further looking at the reasons healthy foods are classed as healthy would also be beneficial and explaining factors such as the nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
Finally we would like to use a wider range of foods for the children to try and even look at how we could put different foods together to make meals and different flavours.
Overall we were really happy with the project and felt we met the brief very well and that the children were engaged and receptive to learning through the different methods we used. This has really ignited our passion to help as many schools as possible to educate the children on healthy foods and the benefits of healthy eating. If you'd like to discuss how we could help your school then we'd love to hear from you, you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org