Australia: Foodbank Western Australia provides more than a good breakfast
Five million Australians are food insecure. At least once a week, 3 in 10 of those Australians go a whole day without eating. Foodbank Australia is the nation’s largest food relief organization. In 2019 it provided necessary food and grocery items to over 815,000 people each month through its network of charity partners. The majority of those charity partners rank Foodbank Australia as the most important supplier for their operations.
Rates of food insecurity among children are higher than among adults, and Foodbank Australia’s research shows that more than 25 percent of those seeking charitable food assistance are children. Established in 2001 with 17 participating schools, Foodbank Western Australia (FBWA, a member of Foodbank Australia) developed the first school breakfast program run by a food bank in The Global FoodBanking Network. In 2019, 490 schools participated in the SBP. The program directly reached over 21,500 children, serving more than 69,900 breakfasts each week. FBWA prioritizes schools that rank in the lower half of the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA). In 2019, 86 percent of the schools served were disadvantaged and the other 14 percent catered to subgroups of students at educational risk. FBWA provides nutritious breakfast staples at no cost to the participating schools throughout the entire state, including harder-to-reach nonmetropolitan areas where 56 percent of the participating schools are located. The remote areas are in high need and may often be impossible to reach during extreme weather, in which case FBWA ensures deliveries in advance. Core breakfast products include canned fruit, wheat biscuits, oats, canned spaghetti, baked beans, reduced fat UHT milk, and vegemite.
Food Sensations® for Schools is a practical nutrition education and cooking program that has been developed for school students from kindergarten to year 12 throughout metropolitan and regional Western Australia. Delivered by university-qualified nutritionists and dieticians, Food Sensations® for Schools uses interactive activities linked to the Australian National Curriculum to teach basic nutrition principles and includes hands-on cooking. Nutrition education sessions incorporate FBWA’s Superhero Foods® initiative, which uses cartoon characters to promote healthy eating in a fun, engaging way. The cooking component of the session teaches students key skills in food preparation, food and kitchen safety, and implementation of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. It also provides an opportunity to try new and possibly unfamiliar foods in a safe environment.
In 2019, 490 schools participated in the school breakfast program
The comprehensive sessions introduce food literacy and show that eating healthy foods can be budget friendly, fun, and delicious. The class structure and regularity can accommodate the resources, needs, and cultures of the schools and students. For example, in regional and remote communities, recipes cooked in the session are selected based on the availability of the ingredients in the area. Tinned and frozen produce and shelf-stable items are utilized when fresh items may not be readily available.
Food Sensations® for Schools is available to schools registered with FBWA’s school breakfast program, thus targeting children in low-socioeconomic areas who may be at risk of experiencing social or economic disadvantage.
An independent, three-year assessment of the FBWA School Breakfast and Nutrition Education Programs found positive impacts, including on teaching and learning, transitioning between home and school, reducing disruptive behavior, increasing mood and sense of calm, attending school, and being punctual. Some evidence shows that more frequent and consistent participation in the program is more beneficial than occasional participation. The Food Sensations® for Schools program promotes the idea that healthy meals are easy to prepare and inspires confidence among students that they can prepare them. Students gain the ability to identify healthy foods, read food labels, and be knowledgeable and aware of kitchen safety procedures.
The future aim of the School Breakfast Program and Food Sensations® for Schools is to continue to provide evidence-based programs in schools across Western Australia. Past evaluations of the program support the need for these programs and their positive impact on those involved. FBWA continues to be a national leader in implementing these programs and will continue to develop and improve them based on stakeholder feedback, evaluation outcomes, and emerging evidence in the literature. This is essential to ensure that the programs continue to meet the changing needs of vulnerable students and communities into the future.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, on-site delivery of the Food Sensations® for Schools program in schools across Western Australia has been suspended. While the majority of schools have remained open during the pandemic and are able to provide breakfast to students, schools have restricted unessential services to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. While unable to deliver the nutrition education program in its usual capacity, the FBWA team has redirected its focus to support schools through online content. In addition to the Superhero Foods HQ website, FBWA developed the Quarantine Quisine Facebook group, which provides a range of nutrition education videos, discussions, and evidence-based information. FBWA is also developing video adaptations of its nutrition education activities that will be available to all schools and provide a way to teach students about nutrition and healthy eating while ensuring social distancing and other government restrictions are abided by.