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Nutrition Notes

FAS-S-01Food and drink Source

These notes relate to the nature of food, its production, technologies and availability.

Dietary Fibre- What’s it all about

We spend so much time teaching our students about Fats, Salt and Sugar, but what about Fibre? Dietary Fibre is essential for digestive health and can help to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain. The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council has prepared an excellent overview of Fibre found here.

Going organic

The organic food industry in Australia is one of our fastest growing industries. But have you ever stopped to think about what ‘organic’ truly means in Australia?

The Youth Food Movement Australia, a national volunteer led organisation which aims to increase young people’s food skills, knowledge and experience, investigated 10 surprising facts about Australian organic food. Click here to read more.

Ideas for growing fruit and vegetables at your school

Having an edible garden is an excellent way for children to have fun, be active, learn how to tend to plants and grow their own food. Check with online regional gardening guides or local suppliers for what to plant each season. For results within a term, start with seedlings or quick growing fruits, vegetables and herbs like basil, snow peas, strawberries, radishes, spinach, carrots and tomatoes For a comprehensive guide to establishing a school garden visit the KidsGrow Munch and Crunch Garden resources.

For more information on the benefits of having a school garden, visit the Better Health Channel website.

All about apples

Apples are a delicious, nutritious and versatile food suitable for snacks, salads and juices. They are a rich source of fibre and vitamin C yet how many of us know how they are grown?

TED-Ed provides an informative and interesting talk on how apples are grown. This video is filled with fun facts and is a useful way to show students how one of their commonly consumed snacks are grown. To watch this video, click here .

Farmers markets

Visiting a local farmers market can be a great way to access fresh, nutritious foods. But that’s not all. The charter of the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association (AFMA) outlines some other aims and benefits:

  1. To preserve farmland and sustainable agriculture.
  2. To support and stimulate the profitable trading, viability and business growth of independent primary producers, hobby farmers, community and home gardeners, and associated artisan produce value-adders.
  3. To provide customers with regular supplies of fresh food and access to improved nutrition.
  4. To contribute to the economic, social and health capital of the host community.

If you have difficulty finding out when and where markets operate, the AFMA website provides an excellent directory on the location and times of farmers markets that address these aims in each state.

To find out more about farmers markets in your area, visit their website.

Imperfection is perfection

It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of fresh fruit and vegetable produce is thrown away each year in Australia due to visual imperfection, contributing to global food waste.

To help combat this food supply issue, grocers and supermarkets have developed new marketing campaigns. For example Sydney’s Harris Farm have developed a campaign called ‘Imperfect Picks’ and Woolworths have introduced ‘The Odd Bunch’, which provide consumers with fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables that might not look perfect, at a cheaper price. More details about this food waste reduction initiative can be found here.

Farming facts

The National Farmers Federation in Australia produces regular publication to inform the Australian community about Australia’s farming sector including data on the Beef, Cotton, Dairy, Dried Fruits, Grains, Rice, Sheep, Meat, Sugar and Wool industry.

According to their 2012 publication, there are 134,000 farm businesses in Australia, 99 percent of which are family owned and operated. Each of these farms provides enough food to feed 600 people, 150 at home and 450 overseas.

In addition, the complete agricultural industry provides over 1.6 million jobs for the Australian economy.

refreshed-grainsWhat are legumes and their food group?

Legumes are seeds of plants in the pea and bean family. They are eaten in their immature form as green peas and beans, and mature form as dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. They count in both vegetable and meat food groups.

Whilst legumes are vegetables they provide many of the same nutrients as lean meats. Thus in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, legumes are placed in both food groups.  Legumes are essential in vegetarian and vegan eating patterns to provide enough protein, iron and zinc. Like many vegetables, they are also high in folate and soluble fibre.

Wholegrain, wholemeal, multigrain or refined, what is the difference?

Wholegrain and wholemeal cereals contain all three layers of grains, with wholegrain crushed to finer texture. Refined cereals have bran and germ layers removed.  Multigrain products have various whole grains added.

Wholegrain cereals contain more fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than refined cereal foods because many of these nutrients are removed with outer grain layers during processing. Nutritionally, wholegrain and wholemeal foods are very similar although their energy is released and absorbed differently.

Wholemeal wholegrain bread has more fibre and nutrients than wholemeal, wholegrain or white breads. Multigrain breads have variable nutritional value depending if made with white or wholemeal flour. White bread flour by law is fortified with thiamin and folate and may have fibre added. Refined breakfast cereals may also have added nutrients.

What are processed foods?

Mention ‘processed’ foods and people often think of foods with added fat, salt or sugar and little nutritional value.  Yet strictly speaking ‘processed’ foods are any that have undergone a change from natural state, and this can be beneficial or detrimental to healthy eating.

Often foods need processing such as cooking to be edible or palatable. Some types of processing can increase shelf life of foods, such as canning or freezing. Processing can also make some foods better for us, like reduced fat milks, where saturated fat has been removed. Processing can however remove important nutrients such as fibre and vitamins or result in added salt, fat or sugar.

Whilst fresh foods are desirable, minimally processed foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta, yoghurt, and reduced fat milks have an important place in achieving a healthy diet.  Reading nutrition labels can help make the most nutritious choices.


FAS-S-06Food and drink Choice

These notes relate to food selection, portion size, influences, finding and interpreting nutrition information food labels, shopping and budgeting.

The Mediterranean diet

There has been lots of talk recently about the Mediterranean diet. This video produced by ABC Catalyst provides a good overview of the Mediterranean diet, what foods are commonly consumed as part of this diet and its related health benefits.

This video can be used as a great conversation starter with students to discuss the difference between the Mediterranean diet and the typical Western diet.

Sugar sweet

A recent survey conducted by LiveLighter investigated the sugar and fat content of 40 different cold drinks regularly sold in Australian cafes and fast food outlets.

Results showed that 24 of the 40 drinks contained at least 16 teaspoons of sugar! This exceeds the recommended daily amount for an adult. Recommendations were made to reduce serving sizes and to use skim milk in milk based drinks. Best of all, choose water!

To find out more about the LiveLighter campaign, visit the website at:

Do you know what you are drinking?

Whilst you may have heard soft drinks are high in sugar, have you ever wondered exactly how much sugar is in some of those drinks?

The ‘Rethink Sugary Drink’ website provides some engaging tools and resources for teaching children about how much sugar is in these drinks and the implications it can have on their health. As an example, a 600ml bottle of cola has 16 teaspoons of sugar, a 500ml ice tea has 8 teaspoons of sugar and a 1.1L slushy has 25 teaspoons of sugar! To find out more visit the rethink sugary drink website

Understanding mindful eating

Have you ever heard the term ‘mindful eating’ and wondered what it really meant? Put simply, mindful eating is about purposeful focus on the act of eating. It involves eating with awareness of all of our senses- our sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Mindful eating is promoted as a ‘non-diet’ approach to help us learn to respond to our body cues and particularly when to start (hungry) and stop (full) eating. Slowing down to taste and smell our food not only increases eating enjoyment but is claimed to have mental and physical benefits. To read more and watch a video, click here.

Coconut oil – is it all it is cracked up to be?

Over the last couple of years, coconut oil has become a commonly found and popular item among the supermarket aisles. There has been a significant amount of controversy over this oil, however according to the Dietitians Association of Australia, coconut oil is a very energy dense product, containing over 505kJ in one teaspoon, 92% of which is made up of saturated fatty acids. Unlike some other oils, it provides no vitamins or beneficial antioxidant compounds.

Currently there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend the use of coconut oil over other oils such as olive and canola oils. In fact, research suggests making the shift may be detrimental to cardiovascular health. For more information on this topic, click here.

Use by and best before dates – how are they different?

Date marks on food packaging provide a guide to how long food can be kept and remain fit for human consumption. There are two main types of date marking – ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), foods should not be eaten after the ‘use by’ date because they may present a health or safety risk. Foods past their ‘use by’ date cannot legally be sold.

Other foods have a ‘best before’ date. Foods can still be eaten past this date but they may have lost some of their quality. Foods past their ‘best before’ date can still be sold as long as they are safe and do not pose a health risk.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand further information can be found here.

Nuts are a natural nutrient dense food choice filled with vitamins (such as vitamin E, B-group vitamins), minerals (such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium), antioxidants, healthy fats, protein and fibre. These are important nutrients in child growth and development. In alignment with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, a serve of 30g of nuts per day is recommended. This may include:

  • 30 pistachios; or
  • 20 almonds or hazelnuts; or
  • 15 cashews, pecans or macadamias


Older children not keeping pace with recommended fruit intake!

Based on 2011-12 ABS nutrition data, nearly all children in early years eat enough fruit, yet one in three upper primary school and half of high school students usually do not meet their recommended intake.  Teenage boys are worst offenders and low male intake continues into adult years.

Recommended fruit intake increases from one to two serves per day between lower primary and secondary school, yet children appear not to adjust eating habits to achieve this change. To increase intake, fruit needs to be included at more meals and snacks. To motivate boys and men, fruit can be promoted as a healthy energy boost for sport and is quickly eaten by males when cut-up and presented to them.

Discretionary foods displace healthier foods in Australian diets

refreshed-choiceAustralians including children obtain a third of total daily energy from ‘discretionary foods’; foods and drinks of little nutritional value and high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol.  Rather than being ‘sometimes foods eaten in small amounts’ these foods are displacing essential nutritious foods such as fruit, wholegrain cereals, and milk.

According to 2011-12 Australian Health Survey nutrition data, the proportion of energy from discretionary foods is highest in primary and high school aged children (38% and 41% respectively). In primary school, cakes, muffins, scones and cake-type desserts are major contributors, whereas at high school age, chocolate, ‘health’ bars, and soft drinks contribute the most.

In comparison, at least one third of primary school children and most secondary school children do not eat enough vegetables or whole grain foods.  At least half of high school students also do not eat enough fruit and average calcium intake from dairy foods is low.  Nutrition education using the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating can help guide children to understand and choose healthier diets.


FAS-S-11Food and drink Experience

These notes relate to menu planning, food preparation and cooking, food storage and food safety.

Reducing the risk of allergies

Australian children now have the highest rate of food allergy in the world, with one in ten 2 year olds and two in ten school-aged children now having a food allergy. The most common food allergies are to nine food proteins: cow’s milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, fish and seafood. Egg and peanut allergies are the most common in infants and toddlers.

This article discusses this trend in food allergies and highlights the current evidence surrounding exposing children to foods such as peanut and egg in their first year of life.

Time to party

With Christmas, Easter, end of term and many other reasons to celebrate, you might be considering holding a class party. When it comes to catering, try some healthy alternatives to the usual overabundance of chips, lollies, cakes and biscuits! Great ideas include popcorn cups, yoghurt parfaits, mini muffins, guacamole with multigrain chips or vegetable sticks and wholemeal pizza subs. For more ideas and options, click here.

Perfect flavour combinations

Experimenting with foods and recipes in the kitchen can be great fun and a fantastic way to engage children in learning and trying new foods, but sometimes it can be a real challenge to work out what flavours work together for a dish. For some handy hints on perfect flavours to compliment beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork and vegetable dishes, check out this fact sheet.

It’s time for soup

Cold winter days are the perfect time to be in the kitchen cooking up a hearty, warm soup! Soup is not only a delicious cold weather meal option, but it can also give a nutritional boost. Many soups, such as vegetable soups, can be high nutrient, filling meals, providing your body with many important vitamins and minerals. To find out more about the health benefits of soup, click here.

Don’t let your food go to waste

Meal planning, food shopping and food budgeting for the week can sometimes be a challenge, especially when life gets in the way and you don’t use all the food you bought! You know that food waste is costing you, our farmers and our environment but what do you do with the food?

The Youth Food Movement Australia and their SpoonLed series have come up with a series of handy hints. Check out their link here to find out more.

Teaching cooking skills

With so many different cooking skills to learn, it can be challenging to demonstrate and teach these to students in exciting and innovative ways. Jamie’s home cooking skills website has a page dedicated to learning and teaching cooking skills including ‘how-to’ skills videos, ‘how-to’ recipe videos and step-by-step images. Students can even upload photos of their cooking efforts for potential display on the website.

Cooking class benefits

With a crowded curriculum, time pressures and lack of resources, providing children with practical hands on experience with food in the classroom can be a real challenge. However, there are many proven benefits to getting children involved in food preparation and cooking in the classroom:

  • Helps students gain an interest in trying healthy foods
  • Prepares students to make their own meals, snacks, and breakfasts.
  • Improves cooking skills.
  • Promotes positive changes in students’ food preferences.
  • Improves ability to follow directions.
  • Encourages teamwork, patience, and self-control.
  • Reinforces literacy, numeracy and science skills.

For information on how to prepare cooking lessons without a school kitchen refer to our Cooking without a kitchen Teacher information sheet

Healthy food; hygienic as well as nutritious.

Food borne illness affects an estimated 5.4 million Australians per year.  Healthy eating includes attention to food safety as well as nutrition. Clean Cook Chill Cover is an important mantra when handling food for consumption.

Implementing simple food hygiene and safety measures such as washing hands, fresh produce and utensils; keeping food at the right temperature and avoiding cross contamination between raw and cooked foods help to reduce the risk of food borne illness. Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow quickly at temperatures between 5oC and 60oC, so it’s important to minimise time high risk foods spend in this temperature range.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines promote attention to food safety as well as nutrition. This includes knowing how to prepare and store food safely. Make food safety education an integral part of classroom activities that involve food handling and preparation.

refreshed-experienceUnhealthy taste for salt amongst Australian children

Latest survey data show on average Australian school children exceed recommended upper limits of sodium intake. This is from food choice alone, without consideration of salt added in cooking and at the table. Read more….

Sodium is found naturally in foods such as milk, meat, eggs and seafood. It is also added to processed foods as a preservative and flavor enhancer. According to 2011-12 Australian Health Survey nutrition data, bread, cheese, ham, sausages, tomato sauce, pasta sauces, burgers and pizza all contribute significantly to children’s sodium intake.

In addition, a quarter of children eat food with salt added very often during cooking.  Preference for salty foods is an acquired taste and occasional or frequent addition of salt at the table increases from 3% to 32% from pre-school to high school age. High intakes of sodium can increase blood pressure, and high blood pressure can increase the risk of developing heart and kidney problems. Intake can be reduced by avoiding added salt in cooking or at table and choosing packaged foods with sodium less than 400mg/100g.


FAS-S-16Food, drink and Health

These notes relate to how food and nutrition impacts on health and wellbeing.


Had a gutful – Understanding the role of healthy bacteria in our guts

Our gut does more than just help us digest food; the bacteria found in our intestines have implications for our mental health, sleep, weight gain and food cravings. This article describes the role of microorganisms in our gut, and is accompanied by an excellent explainer video on “What is the human microbiome?”

What is the FODMAP diet?

Have you heard of the FODMAP diet before and wondered what it was all about?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder characterised by symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating and distension, wind and altered bowel habits. Research has found these symptoms are triggered by certain carbohydrates in foods, called FODMAPS. To help reduce these symptoms, dietitians at Monash University have created The Low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for:

Fermentable The process through which gut bacteria degrade undigested carbohydrate to produce gases (hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide)
Oligo-saccharides Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) found in; wheat, rye, onions and garlic

Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) found in ; legumes/pulses

Disaccharides Lactose found in; milk, soft cheese, yoghurts
Mono-saccharide Fructose (in excess of glucose) found in honey, apples, high fructose corn syrups
Polyols Sugar polyols (eg. sorbitol, mannitol) found in some fruit and vegetables and used as artificial sweeteners

To find out more about how the Low FODMAP diet works, watch a video here  or read more here.

Back to basics

Eating and enjoying food is so much more than just about the nutrients we consume, it is part of our culture, how we celebrate and how we socialise. Yet with frequent changes in nutrition information and conflicting views, it is getting confusing to understand food and nutrition; affecting our overall relationship with food.

This TED talk by Dr Joanna McMillan provides a thought provoking talk on how we can simplify our thinking and achieve real change in healthy eating!

Sport and nutrition

Sport and fitness are a big part of the Australian culture, however with so much conflicting information on sports nutrition, it can be difficult to know what nutrition advice will assist your athletic performance, energy levels and recovery.

According to Nutrition Australia, it is important to consume enough energy (kilojoules) to meet the physical demands of your type of exercise and training and to assist your body during the recovery period. The three main nutrients (macronutrients) which can provide energy are carbohydrates, fat and protein. These nutrients can be gained from eating a variety of foods across the five food groups. To read more about these macronutrients, hydration during exercise and important micronutrients for athletes, click here. 

Add a splash of colour

Ever wondered why you hear nutritionists say ‘make sure you have plenty of colour on your plate’?

It is because colour can be a guide to nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables fall into one of five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. Each of these colours have their own unique phytochemicals which help your health in different ways. Click here to read Nutrition Australia’s guide to ‘Eating a rainbow’.

Good nutrition during adolescence

Adolescence is a period of significant growth and development therefore consuming a healthy balanced diet is critical. During this time period, the need for most nutrients increases including protein, vitamins and minerals.

Appetite changes are also likely to occur so it is important to promote making healthy choices based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and to reduce fast foods high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt.

General dietary recommendations for adolescents based on the Australia Dietary Guidelines include:

  • Enjoy a wide variety of foods such as:
    • Vegetables of different types and colours, and legumes/beans
    • Fruit
    • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly whole grain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
    • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
    • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
  •  Drink plenty of water
  • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt and added sugars.

One in ten Australian children has a food allergy or intolerance

In most classrooms there will be at least one child with food intolerance; requiring special attention during food based learning tasks and eating occasions.

Data from the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2011-12 show 12% Australian children aged 2-18yrs avoid certain foods due to allergy or intolerance. The most common types of foods avoided are cow’s milk (affecting 3.5% children), peanuts (2.3%), fish or seafood (1.6%), tree nuts (1.3%) and eggs (1.3%).

Reactions to food can range from mild skin reactions or tingling of lips to respiratory difficulty and life threatening anaphylactic shock. Assessment of student risk is the first step in planning any food based learning activities or eating occasions. For more information about food allergies see:

refreshed-lazyChildhood overweight still a problem

Overweight and obesity in children is a major health concern, causing immediate and long term social, psychological and physical health problems. Rates of childhood overweight and obesity tripled in national and state surveys between 1985 and 2003, triggering widespread action through schools and community to encourage increased activity and healthier eating. By 2007, rates of weight gain had slowed and in 2011-12 no change was observed in the proportion of children overweight or obese. Sustained effort to improve diet and promote active lifestyles is still required to produce a downward trend. Read some tips for parents on this sensitive issue here.