Every parent knows well the daily struggle to get kids to eat their fruit and veggies. Coupled with perceptions regarding cost, preparation time and taste, consuming the recommended three servings of vegetable and two pieces of fruit per day can seem like an insurmountable hurdle for families.

A new initiative at YMCA’s Papakura and Manurewa Early Learning Centres is aiming to overcome those barriers by creating healthy food habits from a young age.

In April 2017 the two centres signed up to the Know Me Eat Me programme. The 12 month programme provides resources for early childhood educators to help children learn about healthy foods, the origins of fruit and vegetables and, best of all, explore taste.

Four months in and the programme is already having an impact for children and their families.

“The kids have changed their lunchboxes quite a lot,” Erana Tawhai, a wellbeing educator at YMCA Papakura Early Learning Centre, said.

“They used to come in with a whole lot of junk food high in sugar, but now we’re seeing a lot more fruit and vegetables.”

Erana and the Papakura early childhood teachers are working with the children to explore a different food each month. June was all about milk and included an excursion to a local farm. In August the kids are exploring cauliflower through a range of activities including science experiments, interactive stories and healthy recipes.

The onsite kitchen, centre-prepared lunches four days per week and daily morning and afternoon teas ensures the children have plenty of opportunity for hands-on learning.

“If we’re doing a recipe the kids will be involved in the preparation, cooking and tasting. They love it!” Erana says.

The initiative is also having an effect on families connected to the centre. Erana notes the children are talking about the healthy food activities at home, sparking conversations amongst families and prompting some parents to ask for recipes. As a result, Erana is planning to start monthly cooking lessons to enable parents to see what their kids are cooking through the day.  Cheap, easy and healthy recipes on display in the centre are also busting myths about the costs of healthy eating.

“We’re all learning together,” Erana says. “The kids are learning healthy from unhealthy and it’s great to see their knowledge is slowly changing habits at home.”

Find our more about YMCA's Early Learning Centres and how you can enrol your child today>