AS the Christmas season rolls in, Australian parents have been given an early gift to help get their children eating more vegetables.
Australia's VegKIT project partners the CSIRO, Flinders University and Nutrition Australia have launched a collection of new resources that provide practical strategies, insights and guidance aimed at getting kids to eat more vegetables.
The resources aim to inspire educators and carers, as well as policy-makers, food industry and vegetable growers.
The new VegKIT user guides are the first in a series of ongoing project deliverables for this $4 million, five-year national project funded by Hort Innovation and led by CSIRO, Flinders University and Nutrition Australia. VegKIT aims to increase Aussie kids intake by at least an extra half a serve of vegetables every day.
The new VegKIT guides are all available free-of-charge and can be downloaded on the refreshed VegKIT website.
According to VegKIT, only 6 per cent of children aged two to 17 years are consuming the recommended amount of vegetables each day.
Currently, 2 million children (49pc) aged 0-12 years attend formal care and majority of their daily meals and snacks are provided here.
In fact, 60pc of children are eating their meals outside of the home.
Healthy eating leader and centre cook at Clarendon Street Childcare Centre in Melbourne, Julie Lemmon, said her centre has parents coming telling them of the struggles of mealtimes at home.
"But the fact is, a lot of the children in our care are here for six to 10 hours a day. It shouldn't be on parents alone," Ms Lemmon said.
CSIRO's Dr Gilly Hendrie said the groups behind VegKIT wanted to focus on places where children spend their time outside of their homes; on people who directly impact children's vegetable intake through food provision; and on education environments.
VegKIT research has found food manufacturers, policy makers and growers can also positively influence kids' diets.
Nourishing Bubs chief executive officer and paediatric dietitian, Olivia Bates, agreed.
"The food industry certainly has a role to play in increasing children's vegetable consumption," Ms Bates said.
"As an industry, we have a direct link to children and their parents. A project like VegKIT provide us with evidence-based insight into the types and composition of products that children are likely to not only accept, but like to eat."
"Food industry can absolutely help children love their veggies by focusing at least part of their R&D efforts on developing products which hero vegetables."
Nutrition Australia Vic Division CEO, Lucinda Hancock, said there was little guidance on what strategies are likely to be successful.
"VegKIT's aim is to give those people who work with children in eating environments sustainable solutions and strategies," Ms Hancock said.
"Kid's low vegetable intake is everyone's issue, not just parents."
The benefits of increasing veggie intake are widespread.
Not only does establishing a love of vegetables help children carry that love along into later life, but ensuring each child is eating an additional half a cup of veggies per day provides obvious benefits for vegetable growers, and a flow-on effect for the economy.
Velisha Farms CEO, Catherine Velisha, said growers know they are contributing to the health and well-being of Australian kids.
"In return, there is potential to raise demand for fresh produce by 19,000 tonnes per year if every child (aged 2-6 years) increases consumption by greater than half a serving. That's worthy of our efforts", Ms Velisha said.
Hort Innovation research and development manager, Jemma O'Hanlon, said to shift consumption, everyone will need to play their part over a number of years.
"The new VegKIT resources provide the guidance and support that critical settings need," she said.
"The project partners are genuinely excited about what we collectively can achieve with the VegKIT project.
"If we can get kids eating just an extra 1/2 serve of veggies every day we'll have an enormous impact on the health of this nation."
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