Connecting through the language of food

Monday, March 25, 2024

From planting orchards to connecting cultures and families through gardening, over the last two years the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative has been building connections in diverse communities using the common language of food.

St George’s Road Primary School, City of Greater Shepparton

The City of Greater Shepparton is home to an extraordinary cross-section of cultural groups, with over 30 nationalities and 50 languages across the community.

When Katie Thorp started her role as a Healthy Kids Advisor, she recognised the challenges of ensuring food security for families who have different dietary needs, varying income levels and an unfamiliarity with the local food environment. Bridging connections and improving accessibility to fresh food and food education for young people became a key focus of her approach, especially as she began work with St George’s Road Primary School.

“St Georges Road Primary School has a diverse cultural cohort,” Katie says. “In many households English is a second language and there are lots of new arrivals. Unfortunately, that often means a greater level of food insecurity for families whose incomes are more vulnerable.”

One of the first things Katie implemented was a daily fruit break, where students could gather in their classrooms and enjoy fresh fruit. “This way, we knew at least every young person on the school ground had access to a piece of fruit – an instant action to tackle unequal access to fresh food,” says Katie. “It brings the children together and creates a shared moment.”



With the large cross-section of languages spoken, communication around food education came with unique challenges. Katie wanted to ensure that everyone could access information equally, and one way she went about achieving this was through “fruit and veggie sessions” which both kindergarten families and school-based families could attend.

In these engagement sessions, Katie asked students ‘What does healthy food look like to you?’. She taught many children the English names for certain vegetables, and discussed the colours and superpowers of the food. Parents and families came along to help students share the knowledge between school and home.

These sessions have become a gentle space where families of different backgrounds come together and bond over food. “It was just wonderful seeing the proud faces of parents as their children learned new words,” says Katie. “And then, in turn, the delight of the children sharing this knowledge with their parents, and the conversations it would start.” 


“Students loved these sessions with Katie. They even produced posters that were displayed around the school and students talked about it during assembly.”
- Georgia Bramich, Assistant Principal at St Georges Road Primary


Another brilliant resource for the school has been the Community Garden. Established 20 years ago as a space to engage and support migrant women and their families, it has grown to be a place of community and connection.

The women and children who access the garden come from a wide range of backgrounds, including Afghan, Syrian, Kurdish and Iraqi families. The space cultivates culturally significant plants such as gandana, dodo, rashad, bittergourd, rosella, banana trees (for leaves and flowers – used for cooking and religious ceremonies), kangkong, tulsi, curry leaf tree, grapevines (for vine leaves for cooking) and Nepalese saag.

Recognising the potential for the space to be utilised more by the primary school-aged students, Katie has strengthened the ties between the hub and St George’s Road primary school, even arranging for a sponsored Kitchen Garden Program membership to ensure ongoing support.

Dandenong Primary School, Afghan Women's Organisation

Over in the City of Greater Dandenong, Healthy Kids Advisor Belinda Nowakowski is working to incorporate a culturally diverse taste of home into the food environments of local children and young people.

With a large cohort of students coming from Afghan backgrounds, Dandenong Primary School currently hosts the Afghan Women’s Organisation Victoria. This organisation consists of parents and carers from the community who gather weekly in the staff kitchen to connect and cook delicious meals from home.

Upon starting her work as a Healthy Kids Advisor with Dandenong Primary, Belinda was introduced to the women of this group and collaborated with them to kickstart the school’s very first Afghan Kitchen. With no canteen currently running at the school, Belinda and the Afghan Women’s Organisation identified an opportunity to bring fresh, culturally significant food to student lunches, nourishing both body and soul.

Their weekly meetings now include food safety training, recipe planning, and tending to their bustling school garden. Occasionally, they will also host workshops run by local organisations such as Monash Health and Enliven, where the women engage in discussions, share knowledge about food nutrition and learn how to plant herbs important to their cuisine.

With Kabul burgers first up on the menu, many ingredients will be sourced right from the school’s sprouting veggie patch, including traditional gandana, coriander and parsley. They hope to have the brand-new Afghan Kitchen up and running next school term, serving fresh, wholesome, homemade meals once a week to students.



Creating a connection for these students between home and school, Belinda is now also working with the Afghan Women’s Organisation to host a cooking program in their head office with newly arrived migrant women from Afghanistan. With the goal of expanding their cooking knowledge and recipe repertoire, the women have been learning how to make delicious meals from other cultural cuisines, using new spices and herbs they’ve grown in their thriving backyard garden.

Together they learn how to make a dish of the group's choice. While cooking, the group take the chance to ask Belinda all their questions and discuss new flavours and cuisines. Next, Belinda is preparing to train some group members to take over in leading the cooking lessons themselves.  

 About the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative 

The Healthy Kids Advisors initiative is delivered by the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and supported by the Victorian Government and Australian Government. 

This community engagement initiative is active in 13 priority communities to spread pleasurable food education and encourage participation in the state-wide Vic Kids Eat Well movement. 

In collaboration with local health promoters, Council and community, our Advisors offer free support and simple ideas to boost healthy and delicious food and drink in schools, sports clubs, after-hours care and council-run facilities. 

Want more information?

Visit the Healthy Kids Advisors news page or contact us at

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