Thanks to funding allocated by the St Helens and Notting Dale Councillors through City Living Local Life, students at Oxford Gardens primary school were able to participate in the Food Explorers’ programme in association with the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation from July 7 to 11.
The Food Explorers is a hands-on food and nutrition education programme for primary students. The goals of the week were to:
- Raise awareness about food, how it is made and where it comes from;
- Encourage students to get excited about planting, eating and cooking;
- Increase the number of students who eat a healthy breakfast;
- Inspire children to be proud of and share their own family’s cultural food heritage; and
- Strengthen school links with the local community and parents.
“I can’t thank you enough for involving us in the [Food Explorers] project”, says Sarah Cooper, head teacher at Oxford Gardens Primary. “The children had a fabulous week with so many experiences that I know they will remember for a very long time.”
The Food Explorers week at Oxford Gardens included trips to Phoenix Farm, Jamie Oliver’s Recipease and Whole Foods Market for hands on cooking demos and lessons. School visits from local food champions and in-class activities included: baking with The Crazy Baker (Sophie Grey), burger making with the Provenance butcher, learning to read food labels and finding hidden sugars with a registered dietitian and a school-wide smoothie making competition. Every activity had pre-determined behavioural goals and learning objectives and school-wide student surveys were conducted before and after the week.
Almost half (44%) of Oxford Gardens students in years 1 and 2 and more than a quarter (29%) of students in years 3 to 6s said they sometimes skip breakfast. Ten percent of year 3 and 7 percent of year 4 to 6 students said they skip breakfast most days. As this was a problem also highlighted by the teachers, the overall theme for the week was “Eat a Healthy Breakfast” and this theme was reinforced through most of the week’s activities. All the teachers strongly agreed that the students learned more about healthy eating and the importance of breakfast, and 82 percent of the students said they tried to eat a healthier breakfast during the Food Explorers Week.
“What made this stand apart was the breakfast demos providing good practical breakfast skills”, says a year 6 teacher. One of her students goes on to say, “I’d never tasted a poached egg and now know how to make them and love them”
As part of the Food Explorers programme, a teaching garden with seven allotments (one for each year group) was installed in an empty lot at the back of the school, by the Royal Borough Environmental Team lead by Terry Oliver. The long-term objectives for this garden are to improve the students’ understanding of where food comes from, how it is grown and seasonality; promote students’ scientific understanding of ecology in the context of growing food; and inspire the students to be more open to eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Gardening began during the Food Explorers Week with the students planting tomatoes, pumpkins, peas, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuce and a number of different seeds in their new garden. Plans have already begun planting the new edible teaching garden at their school.
The whole school was invited to participate in the International Café as part of the week’s events. The café brought together families from diverse backgrounds that don’t usually intermingle over a common love of cooking and eating. It is an event that serves as both an educational opportunity for the children and a chance to encourage community bonding and harmony within the ward.
“We really enjoyed the Food Explorers week at OGPS”, says Lauren Potter, PSHE teacher at Oxford Gardens . “The International Cafe was a huge success and was one of the best attended events we’ve ever had at our school. The children are developing an interest in eating healthily and we cannot wait to do it again next year!”
More than half (52%) of the students at the school attended the International Cafe. It is estimated that between 250-300 people participated. Homemade dishes were shared from more than 20 countries including Syria, Jamaica, Vietnam, Russian, Japan, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Of the Oxford Gardens students that attended the event, all of them said they tried at least one new food at the event. More than half said they sampled three or more new dishes.
When asked if they would like to participate in the Food Explorers programme again next year, all the teachers surveyed and 93 percent of students strongly agreed. Ninety-three percent of the students surveyed said that they really enjoyed the Food Explorers Week.
Councillor Judith Blakeman of Notting Dale war commented: “Notting Dale Councillors supported Food Explorers because many children from our ward attend Oxford Gardens School. We believe it is vitally important that children learn both how to grow food and how to cook and eat healthily. These skills will now be transmitted down the generations and be invaluable for local families for years to come.”
Councillor Eve Allison of St Helens ward also said: “Inquiring, enthusiastic, passionate and enthralled from years one to six, the drive and energy was clearly there as the children and I mucked in to plant the seeds. This will enhance and serve as a platform in instilling and engaging with the earth the role that we all have from children to Councillors to get involved and to be resourceful”.
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