Legislation, education or emojis: How can we encourage positive food habits in children?

Ange Barry, CEO at Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, with a student from one of the schools in the Foundation’s programme.


Have you seen the recent video of 10-year old Charlotte suggesting veteran British broadcaster Andrew Neil hasn’t been “educated properly”? The segment was part of a wider debate around a “sugar tax” introduced in the UK earlier this year. The clip is cute and funny – but Charlotte also comes across as passionate and freaking smart.



Charlotte is a great example of the fact that kids *do* care about having a healthy future. But they need to be supported and encouraged to make positive choices. Whether it’s a matter of legislation or education, it’s clear that we need to do something to discourage the unhealthy food habits that plague a significant portion of children – in Australia and further afield.


Improving the health of Australian children


The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation was established to facilitate food education for children and to make positive food habits a normal part of their lives. CEO Ange Barry believes a rounded approach is essential if we want to instil these habits in our children.


The programme started with one school in 2001 – 15 years later it’s being delivered in over 800 schools across the country.


“The Foundation is continuing to look to Government to support pleasurable food education in more schools, and would love to see it become part of the Australian curriculum,” says Ange.


What are positive food habits?


Positive food habits are about choosing food that is fresh and seasonal – but it’s also important that our food tastes really great. After all, everyone should truly enjoy food and have the experience of eating the freshest and best produce. Creating positive associations with food is key to creating these good habits in children.


“Understanding where food comes from is also essential. Not all foods are available all the time,” Ange explains.


“Positive food habits are best formed at an early age, when children are developing physically and psychologically. This means we need to make our attitude to food fun, enjoyable and consistent. By engaging their curiosity, they become eager to learn. By instilling these invaluable life skills in children, they begin proving to themselves that the best food is fresh.”


Kids need positive food habits in order to become healthy adults

Ange with more children having fun and learning positive food habits.


How did unhealthy foods become a normal part of life for so many families worldwide?


Celebrity food guru Jamie Oliver has told the Australian Government to “pull its finger out” and follow the UK’s move to put taxes on sugary drinks. Australian researchers have warned that children who have lots of salt in their diet are at risk of becoming overweight or obese. Meanwhile, in the US, researchers have suggested that emojis may be a way of encouraging children to make healthier food decisions. It’s clear that there is a huge problem with our food habits and a lot of groups and individuals determined to fix it. But how did we get here in the first place?


“We’ve lost the know-how around food. For many people, there’s actually a bit of a fear of getting in the kitchen. Mainstream media tends to glorify food at times through cooking shows where the dishes are quite complex – this can make cooking seem less accessible to your regular community member,” says Ange.


“We’ve seen a real decline in the social side of food within the family. It should be an intrinsic part of our culture – relationships can be strengthened around prep, growing, sharing of food and enjoyment around the table.”


So how can we combat this? By encouraging people with simple recipes, that use simple fresh ingredients.


“Food can be a powerful connector across social, economic, cultural and language barriers. It brings families and communities together. We need to get back to that sharing”


Has anyone been successful in helping kids form positive food habits?


Healthy eating is becoming more popular, but we still have a long way to go, says Ange. Across the globe we are facing a crisis in obesity and related illnesses. What children are seeing in popular culture, news media and social media is often detrimental to them forming healthy habits.


“This is all thanks to clever marketing,” Ange explains. “Companies are spending hundred of millions of dollars engaging children in negative habits, and there’s little being done to stop it.


“On the positive side, we are starting to see a change in “convenience food”. It’s easier for people to find healthier options at cafes.


“There’s also some really healthy debate about sugar sweetened beverages in Australia. At state and federal level, we’re looking at how we can send a message about the impacts of sugar sweetened beverages. The discussion is positive –  showing vegetables in a pleasurable way – focusing on the enjoyment of fresh food.”


Fresh vegetables are bestFresh food is best – so how do we make sure kids know that?


How can you help?


One in four Australian children are overweight or obese, often going on to become obese adults. In fact, poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined. Swift action needs to be taken in order to turn this trend around.


“Parents don’t realise how significant a role they can play in bringing programmes to their schools – please take a look at the Kitchen Garden Foundation programme. Not only is it an enjoyable experience for your child, it will help form positive food habits that will play a huge part in their lives,” says Ange.


The Kitchen Garden Foundation is a non-profit organisation with no Government funding at present – if you’re interested in donating or learning more, you can do so via their website.


lucy godwin, communications manager