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The girls came off the school bus beaming from ear-to-ear, waving little booklets at us and talking nineteen-to-the-dozen.
Their conversation… if you can call a one-directional avalanche of competing phrases tumbling from three over-excited youngsters a conversation… revolved around fruit and veg. School was introducing a new programme called Food Dudes and they explained that for the next sixteen days they would be trying different fresh fruit and veg in school, and getting “prizes” for eating it. Sure enough, the next day they came home having tried some cucumber (no challenge there then… the girls love cucumber, and regularly devour vast quantities of the stuff), and eager to show us their food dude trinket.
To date they’ve collected a wrist-band watch, a plastic drink bottle, fridge magnets, a pencil case, a pedometer, a rubber (eraser), twirly straws and other bits of paraphernalia for trying an assortment of fresh foods. They’re also keeping a food diary detailing all of the fruit and veg varieties they eat at home and at school every day for the sixteen days — which they’ve stuck on the fridge using their Food Dudes fridge magnets and fill in diligently every evening before bed.
The girls have always been brilliant about eating fruit and veg. It’s something we’ve always encouraged since they first started on solids, but it’s still great to see them so actively engaged in healthy eating through a school initiative. In terms of the eating habits of our children Ireland’s overall record is none-too-healthy, so any initiative that encourages and rewards children for trying fresh fruit and vegetables, and goes on to foster a healthy awareness of the role fresh fruit and vegetables play in a healthy, balanced diet, is an incredibly positive step.
The Food Dudes programme was originally developed by the University of Wales, Bangor, as a response to growing childhood obesity and other diet-related issues in UK schoolchildren. It revolves around four unlikely super-heroes — the Food Dudes — who act as positive role models for healthy eating, and involves an initial phase of repeated tasting of fruit and vegetables in the classroom over a 16 day period, with rewards for children who participate, followed by a second phase which extends the message beyond the classroom into the home… encouraging children to bring their own fruit and veg into school in special Food Dudes containers. Their progress is measured on classroom wall-charts, and children are awarded Food Dudes certificates and other rewards for achieving specific goals.
Pilot studies in England and Wales demonstrated conclusively that the Food Dudes Programme delivered significant and long-lasting increases in children’s consumption of fruit & vegetables. In Ireland the scheme was introduced in three phases… the initial pilot in 2002/03, an extended pilot scheme from 2005-2007 followed by the 5-year national roll-out that began in 2007 and is currently underway.
It’s great to see the government get behind a scheme that’s genuinely innovative and tackles an issue as fundamental to the nation’s future as healthy eating in children. It smacks of all the things a government should be… responsible, forward thinking, accountable, inspirational and pro-active with a healthy dollop of common sense on the side. It’s just a shame some of those same characteristics weren’t a bit more widespread in Brian Cowan’s cabinet. Maybe if they were the country wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in.
Still, you have to applaud small victories, and the Food Dudes programme certainly qualifies on that score. So, a hearty well done to Mr Cowan and his government for a job well done. Now there’s a sentence you won’t read very often in a newspapers these days.