The smell of burger patties sizzling on the barbecue and fresh muffins straight out of the oven wafted through Gate Pa School last week as children put their healthy eating lessons into action.
The school is involved in two national healthy eating programmes, including the Heart Foundation’s Food for Thought programme, and the nationwide Garden to Table programme fronted by high-profile chef Al Brown and Healthy Food Guide editor Niki Bezzant.
Food for Thought is for Year 5 and 6 students and includes classroom nutrition sessions, a supermarket visit, and a contribution towards a healthy class lunch which the students design, budget, buy, and prepare for.
Students at Gate Pa decided on burgers and carrot muffins for their meal, but had to make some adjustments along the way, says syndicate leader Heather Ballantyne.
“Because we were on a limited budget we told the children, ‘This is what the foodbank has given you; how can you feed a hundred people on this?’ For example, we couldn’t afford a lot of mince, so we bought oats, carrots, onions, and eggs to mix in with the mince to make it go further.
“Instead of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pineapple the cheapest thing to do at this time of year was to buy cabbages and carrots and make some coleslaw.”
The more expensive muffin option was also replaced with three roasting dish carrot cakes.
“We’re trying to teach them how to budget, how to make things healthy, and how to cook using seasonal produce.”
For many children, it was their first experience of using cooking utensils such as a grater.
“Some of these children haven’t seen a lot of the tools that you use for cooking. How do you make a peeler peel for example?”
The Year 3 and 4 children involved in the Garden to Table programme are also learning about the art of cooking in the school’s on-site kitchen, growing a garden, and enjoying delicious seasonal meals.
The school garden currently has an impressive array of green beans, kale, bok choy, peas, cabbage, spinach, radishes, beetroot, spring onions, leeks, lettuce, parsley, and turnips, some of which ended up in the cheesy vegetable muffins on the menu last week.
Team leader Robyn Robertson says the school has had a garden for about 10 years but the Garden to Table programme has made the growing and use of the vegetables more purposeful.
“Before, we would cook with it and give it to families, but now children are eating what they are growing and getting recipes to take home.”
The children are also learning the language of cooking – names of kitchen utensils and types of fruits and vegetables – as well as learning to describe taste beyond simply ‘yum’ and ‘yuk’.
“Beetroot, for example, is something they would pull out of a burger because they didn’t like it. When we grated it and ate it raw, and roasted it, they were amazed.”
Gate Pa School is one of only two schools in the Bay of Plenty involved in the programme; the other is Oropi School.