The lasting impact of Healthy Kids Advisors

Monday, June 3, 2024

For the last two years, the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation has proudly worked alongside Victorian communities to deliver the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative on behalf of the Victorian Government. Together, we’ve brought children and young people, families, and decision makers together to find practical solutions and ideas to increase access to fresh and delicious food and drink options in the community.

From rethinking footy club tuckshops to revitalising school veggie patches, the ideas nurtured by our dedicated team have been created hand-in-hand with schools, outside school hours care, sports clubs and community or council-run facilities, leaning on the Foundation's pleasurable food education philosophy. Although the initiative is soon wrapping up, we’re hopeful that the brilliant work initiated will be carried on by health partners all around the state.

A community-led food revolution

Southern Grampians is a sprawling shire, with a population of around 16,500. In her role as Healthy Kids Advisor, Monique Sobey has been determined to make lasting changes that allow young people, schools and local sporting clubs to access the nourishing food and drink they deserve.

“It’s been about taking small steps so that, in the case of schools, the ideas don't require a lot of time or volunteers to get things started, which makes them more sustainable in the long term,” Monique explains.



At St Joseph's Primary School in Coleraine, the student body told Monique they wanted a school tuckshop, so Monique guided them on how to start a student-run canteen, where the sixth graders made and sold fresh food from Stephanie Alexander’s cookbook, Cooking with Kids. The availability of fresh, healthy snacks and lunches from the canteen took the pressure off time-poor parents and teachers, and created a blueprint that each senior class could pass on to the next.

With support from Monique, fresh produce was either donated by local businesses or sourced from their newly revitalised veggie patch, with all profits donated to the charity Mini Vinnies and going to purchasing fruit trees for the school. To help build up an ongoing and sustainable connection with the community, the school linked up with a neighbouring aged care facility.

“The elderly residents come up to the school and help the students garden and cook,” Monique explains. “And then vice versa, the children go down to the hostel and cook and spend time with the residents. It’s about the passing of ongoing generational knowledge.”

There have also been big changes made by sporting clubs. One of the Shire’s largest indoor Leisure Centres added delicious healthy options like granola cups, snack packs, and homemade sausage rolls to their menu. It’s a move that the community has enthusiastically embraced, and – evidenced by a 60% increase in canteen revenue – is here to stay.

Leisure Facilities Coordinator Diana Dixon says Monique’s advice has not only been invaluable but will continue to shape the way they approach food options well into the future. “Monique advised on healthy food ideas we could offer in the café, that are easily prepared and served,” says Diana. “But she has also helped us plan long-term for marketing and how we can continue to create healthy options in the community, and educate young people about it.”



To carry on her work, Monique has worked closely with community health partner GenR8 Change, who bring together community stakeholders like the Hamilton Base Hospital, and local schools and businesses to collaborate on improving and promoting the health of the Southern Grampians community. Monique’s relationship-building with local organisations and schools over the past two years has helped GenR8 Change to respond to the community’s evolving needs. Among other projects she has collaborated with GenR8 Change and their stakeholders to run free workshops on food and health, ensuring that the knowledge and resources of the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative have been passed on to help drive long term and sustainable change.

“With all these positive changes Monique has created an expectation within the community that there will be healthy choices from now on,” says GenR8 Change coordinator, Karen Finch-Huf. “And the domino effect of her approach will have huge longevity in the region.”

The Western District Health Service has been a key stakeholder in GenR8 change, and their Group Manager John Hedley has seen first hand the impact that Monique’s work has had, and will continue to have.

“Monique was a key driver and contributor to the success and the momentum that was achieved over the past 12 months,” says John. “Stakeholders and community groups thrived on having access to a Healthy Kids Advisor and the programs easily accessible resources. And the healthy choice momentum amongst our community has been some of the strongest I have witnessed.”

Making food education fun

Belinda Nowakowski is deeply passionate about pleasurable food education. With a background in food training, cooking and growing her own food, she has approached her role as a Healthy Kids Advisor in Greater Dandenong with a fun-first attitude. This is the message she has passed onto local community groups and organisations, like Monash Health, to help them carry on the great work she has undertaken over the last few years.

Whether talking to schools about tuckshop choices, running community cooking sessions or providing gardening resources with the Afghan Women's Organisation for newly arrived women and girls, Belinda’s community-led approach has been top-of-mind since day one and is keenly observed and adopted by other local health promoters.

“The Foundation’s pleasurable food education approach is now a part of Monash Health’s toolkit,” Belinda explains. “They have embraced this new attitude to food education, where we get the kids to have fun with food before we start describing the health benefits.”



“The Healthy Kids Advisors initiative has been pivotal in re-engaging schools and other settings in the City of Greater Dandenong, particularly since the pandemic, and has generated lots of local excitement and momentum for Vic Kids Eat Well and health and wellbeing,” says Monash Health’s Health Promotion Practitioner, Laura Ayres. “Belinda has brought new ideas and hands-on approaches and activities for engaging settings, including new health promotion settings such as outside school hours care, and has been very welcomed by the community.”

Belinda also helped guide Enliven, a local health promotion charity in Greater Dandenong, about the Healthy Kids Advisors approach, and her upskilling will have a lasting impact on the way they work moving forward.

“The Healthy Kids Advisors’ specific framing of ‘pleasurable food education’ has enhanced our practice as health promoters,” says Zoe Nikakis, Enliven’s Health Literacy & Engagement Officer. “Collaborating with Belinda has allowed us to explore the concept of pleasurable eating to better communicate the value of fresh, delicious, and seasonal food to the community. We have learnt a lot from Belinda about how to facilitate interactive and engaging workshops for all ages. In particular, drawing the connection between growing your own food and how easy it is to cook with it, in a hands-on experience for participants.”

About the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative 

Funded until June 2024, 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. 

As we reflect on the last three years, we’re pausing to raise a glass (of water!) to celebrate the collective effort and impact Healthy Kids Advisors has made with local communities. Read more here.

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Visit the Healthy Kids Advisors news page or contact us at

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