Helping Families Get Healthy to Cut Cancer Risk

Catholic schools are joining Cancer Council NSW in a family-friendly nutrition program designed to combat alarmingly low levels of fruit and vegetable intake and cut cancer risk. 

Eat It To Beat It is a practical community-based program that aims to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by families with primary school-aged children.

It provides free sessions and workshops for parents, helping them to understand why fruit and vegetables are so important and giving them ideas and inspiration to get the whole family eating more.

The program, piloted in the Hunter Region in 2008 and expanded to other parts of NSW in 2013, works with both public and private schools, including 25 Catholic schools in the Maitland-Newcastle and Broken Bay dioceses.

In the Hunter, 90 per cent of adults don’t eat enough vegetables, while 50 per cent don’t eat enough fruit.

Cancer Council-commissioned research shows that up to 4 per cent of all cancers could be prevented if people ate more fruit, vegetables and fibre.

Eat It To Beat It is based on the latest scientific evidence around healthy eating and the benefits of fruit and vegetables.

The program works with schools to provide:

Nutrition Snippets for newsletters showcasing healthy recipes and ideas for parents.

Healthy Lunch Box sessions for kindergarten orientation programs, providing healthy lunch box advice for parents and a show bag of goodies.

Fruit & Veg Sense sessions for parents who want to know more, showing how to save time and money, make healthy meals and snacks the whole family will enjoy, and clever ways to entice fussy eaters.

Eat It To Beat It has built great relationships with many diocesan schools and is constantly expanding. St Joseph’s Primary School, Merriwa and St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook, have worked with Eat It To Beat It for the past four years.

St Aloysius Catholic Primary School Chisholm, the newest Catholic school in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, has already come on board. “It’s good if you can build good habits right from day one,” Principal Suzanne Fern said. “Even looking at the lunch boxes our children bring now, there’s still a lot of packaged food in it, so we still have a lot of work to do.

“When I heard about Eat It To Beat It I thought that’s exactly what we needed.”

Mrs Fern said the program came with great resources, and it was helpful to have people other than teachers deliver the healthy eating message to parents.

“Research is telling us as adults we should be eating less sugar and processed foods, yet we’re still seeing a lot of that in the lunch boxes.”

Mrs Fern said what children ate in the playground had an effect on concentration levels in the classroom.

Cancer Council Hunter Central Coast Region Nutrition Project Officer, Nayerra Hudson, said the lunch box was a great place to introduce healthy habits.

A healthy diet included five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day.

“Including fruit and vegetables in their child’s lunch is one way parents can ensure kids get the nutrients they need every day,” she said.

“It’s virtually impossible to get the right amount of vegies in your diet if you leave it all to dinnertime.

“School children eat more than 2,500 lunches in their 13 years in the playground. We see that as 2,500 opportunities for them to nourish their growing bodies by including fruit and vegies.

“By packing fruit and veg every day, we can make healthy eating a normal part of children’s diets, giving them the energy they need to get through a school day.”

Ms Hudson said the program helped parents navigate the often confusing world of lunch box snacks.

“We also recommend people look for fruit and veg in season, avoid packaged foods, buy in bulk and look out for marked-down fruit and vegetables.”

Eat It To Beat It also offers great online resources such as simple healthy recipes, and free tools including meal planners and behaviour reward charts.

Eat It To Beat It lunch box tips

• Cut up vegie sticks (carrot, celery) at the beginning of the week to easily add to lunch boxes each day.

• Cut fruit into small pieces, or add stewed (apple, pear)

    • Bake vegie/fruit muffins (carrot, zucchini, banana) as a treat.

    • Spread avocado on sandwiches instead of butter.

    • Include left-over vegies in lunch boxes.

    • Prepare lunches the night before to save time.

    • Include a bottle of water instead of fruit juice.

    • Avoid packaged foods.

    • Include your children and get them to choose from healthy choice foods they would like in the lunch box.

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