Kids in the kitchen at Merinda Park Learning and Community Centre OSHC

Tuesday 11 June, 2024

Merinda Park Learning and Community Centre OSHC kids love their canteen. Video thumbnail.

Merinda Park Learning and Community Centre runs an outside school hours care service (OSHC) that welcomes up to 35 children from surrounding primary schools each day.

The Cranbourne service, an hour from Melbourne, wanted to reduce processed foods on their menu and add additional fresh options to give their kids the energy to keep learning and playing all day.

Using simple swaps with Vic Kids Eat Well, they now have a brand-new focus on healthy cooking activities and offer a reimagined range of delicious and healthy food and drink options for kids.

Kids attending the before-school care service can help make the day’s nutritious and tasty options, which includes both a main meal and a fresh fruit and veggie platter.

Those in the after-school care group can also choose to help finish preparing and serve the day’s options to their friends, which range from chicken and vegetable curry to baked wholemeal pasta and zucchini slice.

Educators help the children choose their grocery list for their daily snack platters like crunchy green apples, banana, juicy carrots and sweet pineapple, so they can enjoy old favourites and discover new ones together.  

Kids at the OSHC get to prepare tasty, nutritious meals for their friends.

Kirsty Tucker, the Children's Services Coordinator, explained the kids are happier, try more new foods and enjoy a wider variety of activities since they started using Vic Kids Eat Well.

“The parents are rapt because the kids aren’t as restless when they come home, as they’ve had a substantial meal at OSHC,” she said.

The centre has made healthy food and drinks the stars of their curriculum with healthy food colouring and crafts, alongside regular opportunities to talk about and discover new fruits and vegetables together.

For special occasions or events, the centre offers nutritious and tasty options like homemade vegetable pizzas, in-house roasts and wholemeal tacos, in place of cakes and other processed sugary foods.

“The kids all help each other prepare the meals and everyone is welcome to participate or sit out. It’s why they’re more likely to try new foods, because they’ve prepared them and taste them together with their friends,” Ms Tucker said.

Laura Ayres is the centre’s dedicated health promotion professional from Monash Health, who’s been supporting Merinda Park Learning and Community Centre OSHC throughout their Vic Kids Eat Well journey.

Ms Ayres helped the centre to review their menu and activities, then supported them to make changes that aligned to Vic Kids Eat Well’s simple steps, while incorporating the children’s feedback and the centre’s needs. 

Kids now enjoy a range of new foods and learn new skills with their friends.

With her on-the-ground health promotion support, they also swapped corn chips for soft wholemeal wraps, replaced puff pastry with pita bread and removed processed foods like potato chips from their menu.

Ms Ayres explained the centre’s focus on the kids’ wants and needs is incredibly valuable, as it addresses their interests while supporting new age-appropriate skills and new experiences.

"They’ve made some great strides in getting young kids involved in food preparation, which is wonderful from a life skills perspective,” she said.

"The kids have a really supportive environment in the centre and they’re with friends, so they’re more confident to participate in new experiences and try new foods.”

Since winning a Vic Kids Eat Well Award, both Ms Ayres and Ms Tucker are looking forward to continuing their journey and encouraging other community organisations to join the free movement.

“I was absolutely blown away when I heard they’d won. It’s a real credit to their progress so far and the changes they’re continuing to make,” Ms Ayres said.

“It’s positive to see that their plans are informed by best practice standards. They’ve made great strides so far and will be continuing to do that in the future.”

“Vic Kids Eat Well really helped our service because kids are now being creative in the kitchen with our support. We’re empowering kids to make decisions all day long and they’re loving it,” Ms Tucker said.

“For anyone else who is interested in joining the Vic Kids Eat Well movement, give it a go and you’ll get to enjoy the exciting changes as well.”