Stephanie Alexander: Teaching Our Children Positive Food Habits!
In 1985, ‘Menu For Food Lovers’ made its way into many Australian homes when Stephanie Alexander released her first cookbook. Fast forward 32 years and many cookbooks and recipes later, Stephanie is a household name and one of the country’s most well-respected foodies.
Her culinary passion began as a child, thanks to the encouragement of her mother. “She really was a very good cook, but more importantly she was a very curious cook,” Stephanie recalls. “She always wanted to say, ‘I wonder why or how that happened?’ and was exploring new material for recipes.”
That childhood passion has stuck with Stephanie and became a fundamental reason behind the introduction of the Kitchen Garden Foundation. Beginning in 2001, Kitchen Garden was launched in various Victorian schools, and the idea rapidly grew into the not-for-profit foundation in 2004. With the program up and running for over 15 years, the Foundation now reaches approximately 1,500 schools around Australia.
Burpengary State School, Caboolture State School and Caboolture East State School are among the participants in the program representing the Moreton Bay Region, and for a number of years have been proudly growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing their produce within their school community. Stephanie is proud of their continued input, as she is with all the schools involved. “I think it’s terribly important to give young children a very broad interest in food,” she says. “The involvement during their schooling experience has to be enjoyable, and this isn’t achieved if you just simply had a pyramid or a list of things that you should or shouldn’t do.”
The Foundation provides all the support for schools and learning centres who decide to participate in the program. Once they decide to join, they are encouraged to start by contacting the support line to receive advice on all areas of running the program. Along with phone and email support, classrooms are also provided with and have access to a huge range of resources, recipes and activity sheets. There are also courses regularly on offer for educators wishing to learn more about implementing the program.
Almost everything Kitchen Garden classrooms cook is vegetarian – purely for economical reasons. Herbs, salads and vegies are easy to grow and are incorporated into pastas, pastes, dips and pizzas. “The emphasis should be on involvement with dishes that can be divided between every student involved,” explains Stephanie. “Then they have a hand in preparing, making and certainly tasting!”
The program encourages classrooms to start small if they need to, even if it’s only a few herbs to begin with. “We don’t want to hinder anyone joining in,” Stephanie enthuses. “I’ve seen some truly amazing dishes being turned out of the old electric frypan. Most importantly, all kids can participate in every stage of the process.”
Stephanie believes it’s the sensory experience which creates the excitement and enthusiasm, and allows children to become very involved about what goes into their food. “The program really needed to be one where kids could get their hands into the dirt and dig and watch things grow. To have that excitement of picking their own broad beans and taking them into a recipe; turning them into a salad or squashing them with some olive oil and putting them on toast.I It’s that hands-on aspect and the sense of pride that transforms kids’ attitudes. That’s what I love the most.”
Feedback from schools and learning centres using the Kitchen Garden program has been nothing but positive, with the most common term used in observation by teachers as ‘enthusiasm’. The students involved have developed such a love for the activities, and Stephanie hopes that love remains with them well into adulthood. “I’ve always thought – with something that‘s fun there is motivation to incorporate it into your life,” she explains. “I hope they go home and talk about it and hopefully implement it there as well.”
Stephanie plans to continue to grow the Kitchen Garden Foundation’s program. The Foundation has had a huge response from early learning centres who are keen to start a sustainable growing and cooking program in 2018. The Foundation will also begin a pilot program within the secondary school system, with a view to incorporate Kitchen Garden classroom programs into the much more complex high school curriculum structure.
For Stephanie, the ongoing enthusiasm and excitement displayed by students involved in the Kitchen Garden program to date is motivation enough to continue to provide today’s children with a lifelong skillset in a fun, hands-on format.
If you would like further information regarding the Kitchen Garden Foundation and how to implement the classroom program at your school or learning centre, visit the website at www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au. Alternately, phone the Foundation on 13000 SAKGF or email firstname.lastname@example.org.