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Young cooks get to grips with healthy eating

23:52 29/12/2017
A project launched by an environmental organisation uses hands-on workshops to get children really thinking about what and how they eat

Good eating habits start young, and a project launched by GoodPlanet Belgium and supermarket chain Delhaize aims to teach children between eight and 12 how to eat more healthily.

“Pre-teens and teenagers in Belgium eat far too little fruit and vegetables, about 200 grams a day on average,” says Denis Knoops, CEO of Delhaize. “But recommendations call for twice this amount.”

There is overwhelming evidence, he continues, “that demonstrates the positive benefits of a diet rich in these foodstuffs. Fruits and vegetables are an important source of water, carbohydrates, fibre, minerals and vitamins.”

GoodPlanet’s priority in the coming years is to improve the public’s understanding of our connection with nature, and with our food in particular. Through constructive action and sharing their in-house expertise, they hope to inspire young and old alike to work towards a sustainable society.

Following the calendar

Its GoodCook project exemplifies this philosophy. GoodCook will introduce pupils to fresh seasonal products through a series of hands-on cooking workshops in schools across Belgium.

The classes encourage each child to get out from behind their desk and smell, feel, taste and even cook their own food, allowing them to discover for themselves the possibilities of including locally grown produce into their diet.

“Today, children don’t have as close a connection with nature as they did in the past, and the link between them and the source of their food has been broken,” says Jo Van Cauwenberge, director of the Brussels-based GoodPlanet.

With GoodCook, he continues, “we hope to re-establish and strengthen this link. We want them to know where cauliflower, carrots and strawberries grow. We want them to experience first hand the rich variety of tastes that are made possible using fresh produce.”

A typical lesson follows the lines of a meal plan, where pupils are first given an appetiser of activities to stimulate their senses. This is followed by a main course where they learn to prepare and cook simple yet creative and tasty food.

They top it all off with dessert: a handy recipe book full of tips that they can bring home and share with their parents.

The lesson also follows the calendar, as each season brings its own colours, scents and flavours. In spring, when nature wakes from winter sleep, an abundance of buds, shoots and flowers appear that can be added to the dinner table. At this time of the year students learn about preparing meals with foods such as spinach, chervil, rhubarb, celery and lettuce.

Taste a rainbow

In summer, flowers have turned to moist fruit, while autumn brings earthy colours, and turnips, pumpkins, carrots and beets join the table. Even winter has its own unique flavours as endives, celeriac, onions and cabbage appear on the menu.

GoodCook workshops are pupil-centred. In small groups, the children explore various fruits and vegetables up close using a single sense. One group, for example, will visually inspect the products while another explores the products by touch. The idea is to use your senses to learn more about what you eat.

Each workshop ends with the pupils cooking a variety of dishes and then enjoying a good meal together. In doing this, GoodCook hopes to engage students in the kitchen and in preparing the food they eat.

They hope that by exposing young people to a variety of healthy foods, they will be able to develop healthy eating habits in youngsters from an early age. The take-home message is to put a rainbow of food on your plate, and each season offers its own characteristic fruits and vegetables that nourish the body.

GoodPlanet develops and supervises projects, training and educational tools on a variety of sustainability issues. With GoodCook, it hopes to develop a programme that will reach upwards of 10,000 students this year and continue to grow, improving the eating habits of children around the country.

Written by John Bean