Getting kids to make brave food choices with fresh food they grow, harvest and prepare is part of the mission of the Empower food education programme, which is marking World Obesity Day on 11 October with a great vegetarian pizza recipe all kids will love making and eating.

The Empower programme, run by not-for-profit partners Garden to Table and Life Education Trust, equips Kiwi kids with practical, hands-on knowledge about nutrition and growing food. It was launched in March this year and already, schools all over the country have signed up.

Garden to Table Ambassador Niki Bezzant says one of the keys to solving the obesity crisis is education.

“It’s a big part of the picture when it comes to helping the next generation live longer, healthier lives than us. Programmes like Empower, that help kids join the dots between growing, cooking and feeling good, are crucial.”

Food education programmes recommended by World Health Organization

In fact, food education programmes like Empower were recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in a 2016 report on ending childhood obesity. The report said nutrition and health education must be included in school curriculums, and to make food preparation classes available to children, their parents and caregivers.

Life Education Trust Chief Executive John O’Connell said through classroom and practical hands-on learning, Empower is designed to equip and empower children with the knowledge of a balanced diet, meal planning, key nutrients and how to grow food.

“The WHO’s report on ending childhood obesity identified the importance of teaching children in schools about nutrition, and also food preparation. We support teachers to integrate NZ Curriculum-linked resources into their teaching – both inside and outside of the classroom. Schools don’t need huge vegetable gardens or commercial kitchens to get involved either,” he says.

Growing the vege love

One of the most effective ways to make a difference to our children’s health is to make eating fresh, nourishing food a joy, Garden to Table Executive Officer Linda Taylor says.

This week, she invites children to make a pizza using Niki’s recipes (with a side of kale chips, perhaps!) and to post photos of their efforts on Facebook and Instagram.

“It’s easy and fun to include seasonal veges in your cooking, and letting children take the lead can be a great way to get them involved. We’re looking forward to seeing the creative ways children have prepared Niki’s pizza recipe, using lots of veges.”

Niki’s Vege Pizza

Cauliflower pizza base 

Equipment  • microwave-safe bowl • wooden spoon • knife • chopping board • food processor • oven tray • plates • clean tea towel

Ingredients • 1 medium cauliflower • 2 eggs • 100g flour (use gluten-free if you like) • 1 tbsp oil • 1/4 tsp salt • handful of herbs, roughly chopped • salt and pepper, to season

How to make it:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 deg C.
  2. Chop cauliflower and blitz in the food processor, in two or three batches, until it resembles rice.
  3. Place in a microwave-safe bowl, cover and cook on high for about 4-6 minutes, until tender.
  4. Drain and cool the mixture, scoop into a clean tea towel and squeeze out the excess water.
  5. Whisk the eggs and add with all other ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine. Season well with salt and pepper.
  6. Place mixture on a tray lined with baking paper and mould into the shape of a pizza. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden.
  7. Cool the pizza base before spreading over your favourite pizza sauce and vegetables, and a sprinkle of cheese. Bake the pizza on 200 deg again for 10-15 minutes until the toppings are cooked and the cheese is melted, golden and crispy.

Niki’s Vege Crazy Pizza

Equipment • oven tray large enough for your pizza • knife • chopping board • pizza cutter, if you have one • grater if needed • plates

Ingredients • pizza base (you can buy a good pizza base, make your own dough, or try our cauliflower base) • tomato pizza sauce (or you could also try pesto, mashed pumpkin or even your favourite dips like hummus or babaganoush.) • chopped seasonal veges or leftovers (root veges like pumpkin and beetroot may need to be partly cooked first – ask an adult to help) • Seasonal herbs, chopped • salt • pepper • grated cheese (optional)

How to make it:

  1. Put your pizza base onto your oven tray. Turn on your oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
  2. Put a dessert-spoonful of your pizza sauce into the middle of the pizza and spread around, leaving a 1cm gap from the edge of the pizza base.
  3. Arrange your uncooked and partly-cooked vegetables, or leftover veges on top of your pizza sauce.
  4. Add grated cheese and chopped, fresh herbs on top (optional).
  5. Put the oven tray with your pizza into the oven on the middle shelf.
  6. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, or when the cheese is golden and bubbling with the edges of pizza slightly brown.
  7. Slice, eat and enjoy
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