Parents and teachers around the country are being encouraged to support the Healthy Heroes Lunch Club, a primary school-based programme designed to help tackle the exercise and healthy eating challenges facing children and their parents today. Just one in ten Irish children (13%) meet the national physical activity guidelines 1, while at least one in five nationally are still overweight or obese2. Created by teachers and behaviour change experts, with the support of Dr Mary McCreery, one of Ireland’s leading consultant nutritionists and dieticians, the popular lunchtime programme from the Irish Bread Bakers Association and Bord Bia, which is now in its seventh year, aims to help children to change their eating and fitness habits for the better.
According to Dr McCreery, the classroom is the perfect place to help improve children’s knowledge of food and what they eat for lunch. “The school lunch box should provide about 25% - 35% of a child’s energy and nutrient needs. However, studies have shown that packed lunches are deficient in “healthy” foods and tend to be high in sugar, saturated fat and salt, while low on starchy foods and fibre. Healthy Heroes utilises peer influence in a very positive way. Through a novel peer learning approach, sixth class students mentor younger students on the importance of nutrition and being active. This provides the younger children with important role models, while the older children have an opportunity to foster valuable leadership, teamwork and communication skills.”
One of the primary aims of the programme is to decrease the amount of treat foods and increase the nutritional value of the lunch box. Children form a lunch club that meets to eat together regularly, where nutrition is addressed informally and in a fun way, using materials provided in the Healthy Heroes Lunch Club pack. With a recent report showing poor fruit and vegetable consumption among 10-17 year olds and no improvement since 20143, the Healthy Heroes programme recognises the importance of intervening early so children develop healthy eating behaviours before they leave primary school. It contains useful tips and suggestions on ways to include fruit and vegetables in lunch boxes as well as easy – to- understand information on the food pyramid and the contents of the ideal lunch box. The lunch of the month meanwhile offers suggestions that are designed to encourage children to have a more balanced lunch and become more engaged in the ingredients used, including in their sandwiches.
Dr McCreery says that Healthy Heroes is a win-win for everyone involved. “Studies show that a healthy diet and regular exercise leads to improved academic performance in schoolchildren.4 Adopting healthy nutrition and sleeping habits, coupled with sufficient physical activity, produces children who are not only healthier, but achieve better grades in school.”
She added that the programme owes much of its success to the “tiny teach” aspect. “The experience gained in the initiative over the last six years has demonstrated to me the success of the peer-to-peer approach to learning,” concluded Dr McCreery.
For more information on the programme and how schools can get involved in the Healthy Heroes Lunch Club, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day: The Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA Study) in the Republic of Ireland – Findings from 2010 and 2018
2 The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in the Republic of Ireland - Findings from 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015
3 Health Behaviours in School-aged Children (HBSC), 2018
4 Healthy Lifestyle Changes and Academic Improvement, 2018