Dino-shaped veggies make nutrition fun

Bayer grants take research into the community

Ale Equiza - 03 July 2019

Parents looking for a way to get picky kids to eat their vegetables now have a new technique - cut them into dinosaur shapes. Preschool participants even voted rutabagas as their favourite vegetable in the Food Literacy Intervention Program (FLIP), a community outreach initiative based on University of Alberta research and supported by the Bayer Fund.

FLIP makes learning about nutrition fun for hundreds of preschool children in the Edmonton region. The program was created to help child care staff and parents find effective ways to have children try a variety of different foods, in particular to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables.

In 2017, 147 child care staff attended workshops on healthy eating, role modelling, food budgeting and food waste through the first phase of the program, FLIP I. At the same time, nearly 1,200 preschool children got to explore a variety of fruit and vegetables through storytelling and taste-testing sessions with health mentors.

UAlberta graduate student Paulina Blanco ran focus groups and found parents wanted their kids to be actively involved in food preparation and cooking. As a result, FLIP II focused on engaging parents and families in learning about cooking and role modelling. "For the second phase, we created kid-friendly recipes, including spiralized zucchini noodles and 'meatballs' made with vegetable protein," said Blanco.

The first group of families started in May 2019, and there is a waiting list for the fall session. Blanco recently completed her master's degree and is now the program co-ordinator for FLIP II. "Kids are having fun wearing their aprons and chef hats, and they are proud to eat the meals they have helped prepare."

UAlberta graduate students Crystal Narten and Paulina Blanco

FLIP II also includes online content: a website, social media, biweekly newsletters and a blog. Crystal Narten, a graduate student who is completing her master's practicum with the FLIP team, is the social media co-ordinator. "We wanted to increase FLIP's reach by providing parents with a place where they can access nutrition information and recipes from dietitians and nutritionists, while connecting with other families to share their experiences."

Two grants totalling $300,500 from the Bayer Fund in 2018 and 2019 have provided startup and continuing support to FLIP. "The Bayer Fund focuses on food and nutrition, education and community development projects and we are committed to supporting outreach programs that provide meaningful benefits to the community," said Trish Jordan, public and industry affairs director, Bayer Canada. "In our food and nutrition focus, we seek to support partners who make real-life changes to improve the health and nutrition of children, and we are honoured to fund the FLIP program."

Anna Farmer, a professor of community nutrition and culinary education at the University of Alberta and lead of FLIP, is immensely proud of her team of co-ordinators, research assistants, health mentors and volunteers has done to implement this evidence-based program. "We have a great team of brilliant young professionals who have created an amazing product and are responsible for the growth of the program," said Farmer.