Written by Karli Steenkamp
25 % of the children in Australia are overweight or obese, according to Jamie Oliver. This is a frightening statistic. The famous chef, well-known for making moves to help the world become healthier is taking Australia head-on by implementing his Learn Your Fruit and Veg program. He is not doing it alone. Karen Martini, Australian chef, best known for being a judge on My Kitchen Rules, Better Homes and Gardens as well as The Intolerant Chef has taken on the role of being the ambassador for this great initiative. Karen gets serious about food, health and Learn Your Fruit and Veg.
Starting her career at 15 years old, Karen has gone from strength to strength. With a passion for beautiful food made from raw produce and cooking with her young girls, she is the perfect choice to bring Jamie Oliver’s dream to Australia. She is humble, but has a fire in her when it comes to cooking. “You never know what’s in your inbox,” says Karen when I asked her about her career. “It’s great to be an educator and also inspire the whole time, but I am also feeding my own creativity from day-to-day, experimenting, reading, travelling and it is seriously one of the best career choices for me personally – there is always something new to learn.” This passion is the precise reason why Toby Puttick, mutual friend of Karen and Jamie Oliver, approached her under Jamie’s Ministry of Food to be the ambassador and bring this worthy cause to Australia.
“I really felt moved to contribute and try and achieve change. The lack of fruit and veg intake from our young kids really surprised me.” It is suggested that children need 5 servings of vegetables a day. In today’s busy lifestyle, it can be hard to achieve this. Karen believes strongly in this program. “It is a touch and taste curriculum without lecturing people about what to eat. It is more hands on and we can affect change. I think when a child goes home and discusses that flavor or that discovery, this in turn can lead to changes at home on the kitchen table. We must remember that food brings people to the table and it’s quite a relaxed scenario where you want to find out what’s going on in your children’s lives.”
Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg curriculum is done with trained facilitators and the classes are tailored to different age groups. There is also take home information for the children. Every class heroes one fruit or vegetable and teaches children the origin of where it comes from and how it affects our bodies. It teaches them simple and quick to prepare recipes. “It’s about discovery and the experience.”
The aim of this program is to change the eating habits of our children for the better by getting them engaged in fresh food and cooking. We need to prevent childhood obesity and to help teach children how to be inspired around food. “Type 2 diabetes is gaining on us because people are eating so badly. It all goes hand in hand. You are what you eat, so you need a balanced diet. That is our goal.”
This curriculum is just what Australia needs. “We have an abundance of produce. We have everything at our fingertips. We have lots of fresh air, long beaches and we are surrounded by water and it’s surprising that we need this curriculum in our schools in front of our young children.”
Karen feels that if children help in the kitchen or can cook for themselves they are empowered. “If they could chop up their own orange or slice up their own tomato, pick cherry tomatoes of the stem or get a cucumber and wash it, they are not relying on you to feed them.” She says that this way they will be less likely to open a packet, but if they are going to eat a ryvita, encourage them to have some cheese with that. This program has no heat and minimum ingredients which makes it easy for children to do.
As a mother of two, Karen understands the frustration of getting your children to eat fruit and vegetables. “But you must just keep on presenting whatever you are eating. I presented mushrooms to my daughter 27 times and now she loves mushrooms. It’s not because I gave her a single mushroom. It was never presented the same way.” Children are young and need to learn about fruit and vegetables. “The palette needs to be brought along and that is why the aim of this project works so well because you are introducing those flavours early. Parents are meant to be eating the vegetables too; you can’t cook one thing for the kids and another for you.”
Some advice from Karen to get kids eating fruit and vegetable is to find out what they like and build from there. Parents shouldn’t give up and shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. A Greek salad is one of Karen’s favorite family meals to make.
What else can we do to assist in keeping our kids healthy?
Kate Save and Laura Ballantyne gave us an idea what a healthy diet looks like for a child. A healthy diet should be from the five food groups: Vegetable, protein (meat or fish), fruit, grains and cereals and diary. A healthy snack with a good intake of vegetables could be crisp breads with tuna, cheese and tomato, a potato salad or fruit salad and rice cake with peanut butter, carrot and celery sticks with cottage cheese.
“What does a balanced diet look like?”
A balanced diet for a child consists of enjoying a variety of nutritious foods from each of the five food groups:
- Vegetables and legumes/beans should make up a large proportion of a child’s diet and should be encouraged at every meal. Vegetables provide dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, essential for optimal health.
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds are foods that are rich in protein. This is important for building, maintaining and repairing body tissues.
- Fruit provides dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients, to optimise health and wellbeing.
- Grains and cereal foods should include wholegrain and high fibre varieties of bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles. Refined grain products such as cakes and pastries can be high in added sugar, fat and sodium and should be eaten minimally.
- Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, which is essential for bone health.
How much fruit and veg does a child need daily?
“Can you give me an example of a daily eating plan for a child?”
Meal plan based on the requirements of a child aged 9-11 years at a healthy weight, average height and light activity (approximately 2 serves fruit, 5 serves veg, 5 serves grains, 2.5 serves lean meat and 3.5 serves dairy per day).
* Thanks to Kate Save, CEO of Be Fit Food and Accredited Dietician, and Laura Ballantyne, Accredited Dietician at Be Fit Food for providing the information for keeping our kids healthy.
With thanks to Karen Martini & Hannah Williams.
Kate Save, CEO of Be Fit Food and Accredited Dietician
Laura Ballantyne, Accredited Dietician at Be Fit Food.
Jamie’s Ministry of Food
Karen Martini, is a chef, a mother of two and ambassador of Jamie Oliver’s Learn your Fruit and Veg program encourages parents to speak to their children’s schools to implement this program. It is a worthwhile cause that not only teaches them to be healthy but also to enjoy cooking, food and be independent. Karen and Jamie want to activate change in Australia for the generations to come. Food can be fun and children need to learn that. Empowering them and giving them the knowledge about what is good for them can help fight obesity and as Karen Martini says: “Food brings people together.”