Athol Rd Primary Victoria

Students Embrace Healthy Eating: Pesto Pasta

After-school snacks are important to fuel imaginative play or prepare kids for sports and homework tasks. In after-school settings, catering can be tricky with increased needs and tastes to cater for.

Athol Road Primary School in Springvale, Victoria, is a vibrant and culturally diverse school, representing over 30 different cultures. With approximately 80% of students not speaking English at home, fostering a sense of inclusivity and promoting healthy eating habits has become a priority. In this endeavour, Wendy Beveridge, the manager of the out-of-school hour’s care (OSHC) program, has spearheaded an innovative initiative that not only offers delicious snacks but also engages students in menu planning and learning about nutritious food choices.

Wendy Beveridge, an integral part of the OSHC since 2009, has been passionate about nurturing the school community and providing creative after-school activities for her squad. One of her successful ventures has been involving the students in planning the weekly menu and activities. Students are presented with a wide range of options and eagerly cast their votes, allowing them to have a say in what they eat.

Recognizing the importance of gradually transitioning towards healthier food choices, Wendy, with the support of Belinda Nowakowski, the Healthy Kids Advisor for the City of Greater Dandenong, embarked on a mission to transform the OSHC menu. Their approach focused on making simple and affordable tweaks to existing dishes, incorporating fresh vegetables and lighter ingredients. Belinda emphasized the significance of working with what was already on the menu and finding ways to enhance its nutritional value.

To ensure the children’s active involvement, Belinda introduced a unique approach that fostered a positive peer-pressure environment. Senior students took charge of preparing meals for the entire after-school group, creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere where everyone could try new foods and develop a healthy relationship with their meals. This hands-on experience allowed the students to understand the preparation process and appreciate the importance of fresh ingredients.

The results were remarkable. Since the introduction of the menu adjustments and interactive cooking sessions, approximately 90% of regular students have embraced the changes with open arms. Even the most discerning eaters have been won over as they discovered a newfound appreciation for wholesome meals.

One standout dish that surprised everyone was the Pesto Pasta, prepared with raw garlic, garden-fresh spinach, toasted pine nuts, basil, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. The children actively participated in pounding basil and garlic in a mortar and pestle and relished stirring the fragrant pesto through the steaming hot pasta. The delectable aroma even enticed the nearby staff, who recreated the recipe at home for their families.

The transformation of the OSHC menu extended beyond single dishes; popular favourites like Mac and Cheese underwent upgrades with the addition of plenty of vegetables, resulting in increased consumption by the children. Pancakes now utilize wholemeal flour and are served with a side of yogurt instead of maple syrup. A plate of crackers with dip was replaced with vegetable sticks that the children cut themselves, sparking excitement and friendly competition to create the most appealing plate. Even the jelly was swapped for refreshing fruit salads or berry yogurt pops, which the kids adore.

One remarkable aspect of this initiative is the integration of the primary school’s sprawling garden, meticulously tended to by an environmental teacher and a group of dedicated volunteers. Belinda’s gardening expertise further enriched the program by incorporating home-grown produce into the menu, providing a unique connection between the children and the food they consume.

To ensure that families are involved and informed, the initiative shares recipes and videos of the children cooking and relishing their meals. This ripple effect has seen an increase in families participating in after-school activities, with parents acknowledging the positive impact of the menu changes on their children’s health and well-being.

Main Image: Wendy Beveridge and students at Athol Road Primary School in Springvale, Victoria.

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