Blog: From picky eaters to pick your next recipe!

Blog: From picky eaters to pick your next recipe!
Children cooking in after-school club
13 May 2022
When I first got in touch with Henry Fawcett Primary School in 2020, it was to offer our breakfast boxes to their families struggling with food insecurity.

The school responded almost immediately, welcoming the emergency Covid aid with open arms. A year later, we were ready to offer a different kind of support via our Healthy Zones programme, which helps introduce changes to school food environments, so that healthy food is prioritised throughout the school day.

But, with added pressures in the school due to the pandemic – staff shortages and catching up on lost learning, there was initial scepticism about our project being something they could realistically take on. After some consideration, the school felt able to invite us in to start focusing on their school food policy.

Staff as role models

Interestingly, I saw that the food culture in the school heavily featured “celebration” boxes, biscuits and other ultra-processed foods. The teachers were initially very vocal about not wanting to eat any of those “clean” snacks, but after our one-hour workshop, most had changed their perspective and agreed that they can’t expect children to be excited about eating certain foods if they don’t see adults eating them. After discussing the importance of adults acting as role models with senior leadership, they prepared plates of cheese, mini cucumbers, and radishes as snacks for the staff workshop.

  • Children cooking in after-school club
    Children cooking in after-school club
  • Children cooking in after-school club
    Children cooking in after-school club
  • Children cooking in after-school club
    Children cooking in after-school club
  • Children cooking in after-school club
    Children cooking in after-school club
  • Children cooking in after-school club
    Children cooking in after-school club
  • Children cooking in after-school club
    Children cooking in after-school club

Healthy Zones Ambassadors pick their favourite after-school club recipes

In the new academic year, we moved our focus to their after-school club, where I continued to work with a group of year 6 students (the Healthy Zones Ambassadors) who had already worked with me on their school food policy. They were eager and excited to do the work, along with the health mentor who was a huge help, particularly knowing how busy the senior leadership team is. We worked with the Healthy Zones Ambassadors every Monday for seven weeks, cooking nutritious recipes to then be proposed for the after-school menu. We made Moroccan couscous with roasted vegetables, Greek salad with tzatziki and wholemeal pitta breads, sweet potatoes with guacamole on top, vegetable frittatas (which didn’t go to plan but was a fun afternoon), low sugar oat flapjacks, creamy coconut carrot and chilli soup, and roasted vegetables with pitta breads.

Tips for engaging children with new foods

Getting children to prepare and cook food is a great way for them to get more familiar with a variety of recipes and flavours. Adding pressure doesn’t usually work even with adults, so letting the children steer, and trusting their skills, helps encourage them to be enthusiastic. They even helped with the washing up and cleaning too. We started with the children smelling, touching and trying food, then deciding whether or not it’s their favourite, rather than saying “eeeew” or “disgusting”, and this worked well. Offering one familiar food and then the new flavours allowed them to feel safe in trying something different (e.g. sweet potato was a familiar food and guacamole a new food).

It was so lovely to hear from the after-school lead that she too has started changing her own food openness and now feels inspired and confident to do more food preparation and experimenting with children who attend the after-school club. The changes to the food served would have not been possible without the hard work of the Healthy Zones Ambassadors, who so passionately voice the desire for nutritious food to be accessible to all students throughout the school day. We have now designed a new menu for their after-school club and the club lead is working with a small group of children each day to continue improving the nutrition and build on the momentum of openness to trying new foods.

Written by SFM Project Officer Sabine Appleby, MSc, ANutr