UOW behind breakfast club to give school kids a healthy start

Better start: Associate Professor Karen Charlton (centre) with Annie McNamara and Annemiek Monteiro from All Sustainable Futures at the launch of a healthy food van at Albion Park Rail Public School. Picture: Paul Jones

Better start: Associate Professor Karen Charlton (centre) with Annie McNamara and Annemiek Monteiro from All Sustainable Futures at the launch of a healthy food van at Albion Park Rail Public School. Picture: Paul Jones

One in seven school kids miss the most important meal of the day, but a University of Wollongong initiative aims to change that.

Nutrition researchers and students from the School of Medicine have put in motion a food van which will ensure hundreds of South Coast kids get a healthy breakfast.

The van will be stacked with donated food from local businesses which on-board chefs will whip up into a nutritious – and free – meal to kick-start the students’ day.

Albion Park Rail Public School will be the van’s first port of call on a Friday morning, with the breakfast club to be gradually rolled out to other schools.

It’s part of the Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers project, led by UOW associate professors Karen Charlton and Karen Walton.

Prof Charlton said the project had two main aims – to improve children’s learning outcomes and to reduce food wastage.

‘’A healthy breakfast really sets kids up for the whole school day,’’ she said.

‘’The evidence shows that if a child goes to school hungry, then they are not able to concentrate and absorb information as well as a child who’s had a nutritious breakfast.

‘’That hampers their ability to learn, and it also provides the teachers with major challenges in trying to get them to behave in class.’’

The UOW team is working with Illawarra not-for-profit organisation, All Sustainable Futures, which has helped design the program and has purchased the refrigerated van thanks to a grant from the Environment Protection Authority.

They will link with the Illawarra Food Hub, which brings together a number of food rescue agencies.

The breakfast club was officially launched on November 25 at the Albion Park Rail school, where it has been trialled for the last school term.

“The program ... has been a great way for the community to get together and enjoy delicious food before we start our busy learning day,’’ school principal Fiona Flannery said.  

All Sustainable Futures chef Lisa Schofield said students were enjoying new food experiences.

“Every week we cook something different depending on what food has been donated so it keeps it very creative for us and the children,’’ she said.

“Some of the comments from the children are great –with some saying they had never tried blueberries or kiwi fruit before, we are encouraging them to try new foods.

‘’Many children arrive at school much earlier now to help cut and get hands on with food preparation, it’s a wonderful community project.’’

Prof Charlton said Australians threw away around $8 billion of edible food each year.

‘’We’re all waking up to the fact that we waste so much food,’’ Prof Charlton said. ‘’So this project benefits the community and the environment.’’

As well as the breakfast program, the project will develop in-class activities which teachers can use to help kids learn to make healthy choices.

‘’Too many children arrive at school hungry,’’ Prof Charlton said. ‘’We want to improve their performance, and health outcomes.’’

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