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AppleSeed Educare nurtures heart-healthy foundations

“I don’t like broccoli,” is not something you hear at AppleSeed Educare. The Mt Eden early childhood learning centre has recently been awarded the Heart Foundation Healthy Heart programme ‘Rito’ Award.

This is the first of three award levels in the free programme, AppleSeed is the only centre in the area currently holding a ‘Rito’ award.

For owners Monique and Mike Hollows, healthy eating is not something to compromise on.

“We like to serve the children the kind of meals that we would serve at our home. We firmly believe that healthy eating is core to a child’s development. Good food, sound sleep and lots of love are a child’s basic needs; we are not cutting back on these fundamentals,” says Monique.

AppleSeed is a mixed-aged centre, catering for 33 children a day. Menus change daily with professionally-trained chef Di van Wetering’s Beetroot and Cocoa Muffins, Pumpkin Risotto, and Kumara Dahl being crowd favourites.

It has been a 20-month collaboration between Monique, Di, teachers, parents and Heart Foundation Heart Health Advocate Adele Orangi for the centre to create the accredited environment, which supports healthy eating and physical activity.

Everything is assessed from food safety, nutrition and hygiene through to healthy menus, learning through food and keeping fit through physical activity.

“It has been a really rewarding journey and we are incredibly proud of the achievement and what it means for our children and their health. The support, education and encouragement provided by Adele and the team from the Heart Foundation has been fantastic.”

As well as eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet teachers and children form a positive relationship with food by talking about food, making dishes, eating together, planting herbs and harvesting fruit.

“Di has a real passion for healthy eating and is very creative in the kitchen,” says Monique.

“The children pick feijoas one day and the next day she has whipped up apple and feijoa ice blocks for healthy afternoon treat.”

Adele from the Heart Foundation is also impressed with the way AppleSeed owners, teachers, parents and whānau have embraced the Healthy Heart programme.

“They are always looking for ways to make innovative, healthy changes and the meals that Di creates are outstanding. The children love them and they really support good nutrition,” says Adele.

Mike is proud of Di’s invisible-vege dishes and that the centre achieves 10 out of 10 on nutritional guidelines. This achievement aligns with recent Auckland University research in Auckland and the Waikato, which found early learning services that are part of the Heart Foundation Healthy Heart programme had high menu scores, while many other centres failed to reach nutritional guidelines.

Budgeting is one of the hardest challenges for the centre, but with Di creating seasonal menus, food budgets are kept in line and children also get to enjoy a variety of fruit and vegetables year round.

And for parents it is another source of comfort. “Every parent worries that their child is not eating well, it is so reassuring knowing that our Frankie is being well nourished and loved at day-care,” says centre-parent Sarah Wood.

To find out more about the free Healthy Heart Award programme, partially funded by the Ministry of Health, which helps early learning services create environments which promote healthy eating and physical activity to under-fives and their families, visit leanbyheart.org.nz