Involving young people
When you engage young people in decisions around healthy eating, you encourage them to express their voice and empower them to take action in the places where they learn and play. Listening to their ideas and experiences will help you build a healthy eating plan that appeals to them best.
Why should you include young people?
- They’re more open and accepting of new ideas and changes if they’ve had a say.
- Their feedback will help you develop better, more successful solutions.
- It teaches them how to be part of a healthier, more sustainable community.
There are many playful, simple activities to encourage children to record their perspectives, concerns and big ideas. Before you begin:
- Select a fair, inclusive range of young participants. Who can you invite that doesn’t normally have a say?
- Decide on an age-appropriate activity. What is the best activity to suit your time and abilities? Which activity will engage them most and match their skill level?
- Choose the information you’d like to gather. What are their favourite things to eat and drink? What meals and ingredients are important to their culture and home life?
Here are the key activities we’ve leaned on to help schools and organisations learn from young people. After your activity, create clear channels for young people to follow up and ask about the changes you plan to make. Reward their time with a thank you, discount or prize.
Strike up a conversation
Holding a dialogue with a focus group of young people lets you hear first-hand about the meal ideas and improvements that resonate with them most.
Create a short survey. Write down a series of questions for young people to fill out. Ask them to tell you about the current food and drink options they enjoy most, then ask them to rank the new menu changes they would most support. Encourage drawings for some of the answers to make the survey bright and fun.
Hold a group vote. Set up a large poster and draw a column for each healthy food item. If you can, plate up some of the meals or key ingredients for them to try. Let them add their vote with a tick or a small dot sticker. This visual tally is an easy way to see the items they want to experience most. The collaborative aspect of adding a sticker helps gather momentum for other children to participate, too.
Visit a youth group. This might be a local youth council, junior athlete squad or your school’s Student Representative Council. Ask them how they would increase fresh food and drink options and what issues and opportunities they see. Offer them a chance to help you lead the way with other young peers.
The Gardening Club at Holy Trinity Catholic Primary School in Sunbury, planting seeds together with Christie McIntosh (Healthy Kids Advisor - City of Hume).
In Glenelg Shire, we ran a ‘Have Your Say’ event at Portland Leisure and Aquatic Centre to generate community support for menu changes at the kiosk and ask young people what items they would enjoy. Over 450 responses were gathered from visiting children and their families. The results showed popcorn and fruit salad as the winning preferences from young people in the shire. These items are now permanent menu fixtures at the cafe.
Play-based activities let young people creatively express their concepts and reimagine their food environments.
Design a wall mural. Gather sketches from young people, then lean on a local artist or talented parent volunteer to help bring it to life. Give young people a say in the meaning and intent of the mural and let them join in on the painting day. Your colourful mural will become a regular reminder — and advertisement — of the tasty, nourishing variety you’re producing to benefit the young people in your care.
Encourage a large-scale, collaborative drawing. If there isn’t a spare wall, grab some butcher paper or a cotton sheet and start gathering children’s ideas for healthy, delicious food and drink swaps. Display the findings proudly in a classroom or public space. Libraries are often interested in sharing community artwork.
Run a poster competition. When you need to celebrate new changes, involve young people in the process to generate positive messaging and promotions to their peers. A colourful poster designed by a young person and filled with familiar playground language will explain a new concept better than any adult can.
Inspirational rainbow mural at Athol Road Primary School in Springvale South, City of Greater Dandenong.
Our Healthy Kids Advisor in Greater Shepperton organised a stunning mural based on a creative activity with students from Grahamvale Primary School. Several sessions were held with students to gather their ideas, understandings and sketches of healthy, delicious school food. These sessions informed a large-scale painting designed by a local artist and parent.
Students approved the final design and even helped paint the beautiful characters and plants using a clever ‘paint by numbers’ system. This visual pledge to the school’s healthy eating journey is a great public celebration of the hard work the school is committed to. A total garden revamp has begun, and a student-led plant sale was held to raise funds for seedlings for their edible garden.
Upskill young leaders
Encourage responsible young people in your community to take charge of a new adventure. They’ll learn invaluable life skills and get a deeper understanding of how fresh, healthy food can be key to community wellbeing.
Encourage peer-to-peer education. Older children have great sway with younger age groups. Have them educate the young group about the taste, preparation and benefits of healthy, fresh meals. This peer interaction is often an inspiring occasion of positive social influence, with plenty of chatter. When there’s fresh food involved, you’ll notice younger children tasting and exploring ingredients they’d previously refused from an adult leader.
Start a canteen or club kiosk. Use an existing kitchen space or convert a classroom or outdoor space into a canteen. Even if it’s a one-off or a special monthly event, a canteen shows children how to design a menu, cook and prepare recipes and run the event to raise funds. It’s an excellent math adventure and gives children a sense of accomplishment and pride — especially when they run at a profit! The anticipation and excitement levels will run high from everyone involved.
Offer new opportunities. Leadership experiences for young people will increase their confidence, skills and sense of belonging in the community. Put a call out for a young person to shape your next fundraiser or special event with delicious, fresh food at the heart of the activity.
Grade 6 students handing out healthy snacks to younger peers, at Kialla West Primary School, City of Greater Shepparton.
At St Joseph’s Primary School in Springvale, our Advisor works closely with the Student Representative Council (SRC) so that the whole school is on board with healthy shifts. Our Advisor has found that student leaders love the opportunity to drive promotions at their school, so she’s supported them to promote new changes in their school food environment.
One example of this has been promoting new canteen items. The SRC hosted a ‘fresh food week’ where parents and children could sample new flavours and items during school drop-off. The SRC wrote newsletter articles explaining the menu changes and ran daily announcements on the school intercom about the new, healthy canteen specials. Our Advisor found that even the canteen manager appreciated the extra promotional support the SRC brought.
Rice Paper Roll making at Birregurra Community Health Centre in Colac Otway. Photo by Paul Benjamin.
To date, our Healthy Kids Advisors have engaged over 52,000 young people across 13 priority communities in Victoria, collaborating to create healthier food and drink environments in the spaces where children and young people live, learn and play.
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.
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*Cover photo taken by Paul Benjamin
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