Preschool cooks turn up the heat on obesity

Taking part in our workshop for preschool cooks has left Agape Aoga Amata Preschool fired up to make a tangible, long-lasting difference in its community.

New Zealand has the third highest rate of obesity out of 34 countries in the OECD.

Faaniniva (teacher) and students from the Agape Aoga Amata Preschool

There are so many great things about this little country of ours. However, one thing we can’t be proud of is our astronomical rate of childhood obesity. New Zealand has the third highest rate of obesity out of 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). One in every three Kiwi kids is either obese or overweight.

The Heart Foundation takes this issue seriously and one way we’re trying to tackle the problem is by empowering preschool cooks, who provide our children with meals every day.

Preschool cooks are often not included in activities for the wider teaching staff group. That means they miss out on vital professional development opportunities, like learning about health and nutrition for children. The Heart Foundation has identified this as a gap and devised a series of workshop for cooks in early childhood who work predominantly with Pacific and Māori children. (That’s because Pacific and Māori children are more likely to be obese or overweight than their non-Māori and non-Pacific peers.)

When we sat down to create these workshops, we had no idea how popular they would be. Our workshops were booked out within just days and we now have long waiting lists. There is clearly a need and demand for this type of training.

The workshops we’ve already run were held over two afternoons. We covered topics including healthy snack ideas, making recipes healthier, budgeting, and menu planning.

We’re hearing great feedback about the workshops from preschools such as Agape Aoga Amata Preschool in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, which has made inspiring changes since its cooks attended the course.  

"This course has helped us develop a better understanding of educating not only for our children, but our parents, staff and even our own families,” says staff member Rosie Manase. 

“We have made dramatic changes within our school, and we are happy and confident to now promote healthy eating.

“We are promoting, changing our style of snacks, from cookies to rice crackers, carrot sticks and replacing juices that our children bring to school with cow’s milk but mostly water.”

Armed with their new skills and knowledge, the preschool’s cooks have now been assigned as their ‘nutrition ladies’, says Rosie.

“They love taking the challenge to implement new ways and ideas of creating nutritious food but for a less cost from our own pockets. We have learnt so much and will help us benefit and achieve our goals for our centre.

“Thank you Heart Foundation for allowing use to learn and educate us so we can share with our families and children."

So far, 85 daycare cooks have attended the three courses and we’re planning another one for May to meet high demand.

Many daycares participating in the workshops have since registered to take part in the Heart Foundation’s Healthy Heart Award, which helps them make positive changes to their entire eating environment.

For daycare cooks, taking part in the course and the Healthy Heart Award equips them to help children eat well, and learn well.

There is currently no legal requirement for preschools to provide healthy food to their children. At the Heart Foundation, we’re doing all we can do empower and inspire teachers and chefs to take the lead and give children the best possible start in life.

We all want all New Zealand children to be happy, healthy and free of the lifelong suffering that obesity can bring.

Are you an ECE cook? Interested in a Pacific nutrition course for your workplace? We can tailor Pacific nutrition courses to your needs at the Heart Foundation. Click on the button below for more information.

Pacific nutrition courses