Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu (HFWRR) rural health promoters have been working to support kōhanga reo and early childhood centres (ECE) in their districts to create healthy change within the kai system.
Following initial scoping within these rural settings HFWRR worked with Ruapehu REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme) and the Heart Foundation to put together food safety and nutrition workshops to meet the needs identified by kōhanga reo and ECE staff. The workshops supported staff to increase their knowledge and skills around safe food preparation, preparing healthy kai at an affordable price and reading food labels.
“The workshop was really good, it was an eye opener for us and it provided examples, experiences and tools to help us teach our babies and role model looking after ourselves as kaimahi,” says Whaea Adrienne Te Hau from Mokai Patea Te Kōhanga Reo.
The workshops were based around using healthy food predominantly sourced from maara kai and included information around encouraging healthy kai options within the wider whānau.
Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu have supported a number of kōhanga in the region to access the Te Puni Kokiri Maara Kai fund to either develop their own onsite maara or to expand their existing maara.
Creating onsite maara offers a learning and teaching opportunity for both kaiako and tamariki. It makes the conversations in relation to kai pai all the more relevant when Kōhanga are able to incorporate te ao Māori values and knowledge.
Since attending the workshops the kōhanga reo have been embedding their learnings and looking at how these healthy changes can be supported both in policy and practice.
In one kōhanga tamariki are leading the charge for healthy lunchboxes, this has created a shift away from the weekly friday takeaways that had been a part of the kōhanga culture for the last 20 years.
Kōhanga reo are now distributing maara kai produce amongst their whānau members including the distribution of excess seedlings via small garden boxes to whānau members, fostering transferable knowledge and enabling tamariki to also have maara at home. Whānau are also collecting seeds through the New World little garden promotion to contribute to the kōhanga reo maara kai.
Understanding the wider impacts of healthy kai for tamariki and their whānau is the beginning of creating real systemic change in relation to health and wellbeing of our tamariki/mokopuna.
Creating a supportive environment where healthy kai is encouraged makes the healthy choice the easy choice.
Linking the healthy kai learnings with traditional maara kai practices enables kōhanga reo the opportunity to reclaim traditional growing systems and pass on knowledge to future generations.
There is potential for inter-generational knowledge sharing that leads to sustainable healthy change within the wider whanau outside of the early childhood setting.
Following on from this work HFWRR in conjunction with Whanganui Regional Health Network have been able to deliver approximately 180 fruit trees supplied by Heritage Food Crops Research Trust to education settings, marae and community organisations across the Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu region providing further opportunities for whānau to access healthy kai.
If as a community we can increase the accessibility of healthy kai and have a greater understanding of it’s importance from both traditional health and holistic wellbeing perspectives, opportunities and solutions for creating healthy change across our wider kai system will become evident.
Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu want to work with stakeholders and community to understand how together we can activate communities to improve our food system leading to healthier environments where we live learn work and play.