According to 2021 data, Vietnamese children are rapidly becoming overweight and obese due to unbalanced daily diets with too much processed food and too little fruit and vegetables. This global pattern has many consequences, including an increased risk of disease. To change this, Rikolto has embarked on a journey with two secondary schools in Hanoi. The aim is to make healthy and sustainable food the new normal for students.
In 2021, the Centre for Development of Community Initiative and Environment (C&E) conducted an online survey among 1,039 students, 227 teachers and 331 parents in 13 secondary schools in Hanoi. The survey focused on the food and nutrition situation, awareness, knowledge and behaviour of secondary school students, parents, teachers and school staff in Hanoi.
Findings showed that 74 % of students agreed that their voice should be taken into account when decisions are made about food at their school. 60% of students would like to learn about food through outdoor and hands-on learning activities.
The answer came in the form of the Good Food at School project, which Rikolto implemented with C&E.
The initiative - launched in October 2022 – is one of Rikolto's approaches that aims to provide tailored support to schools to make healthy and sustainable food the new normal for students.
In Hanoi, we worked with Nam Trung Yen and Yen Hoa secondary schools, working closely with children aged 12 to 15, their parents and teachers to get more information and the “know-how” students wanted to learn about nutrition and good food at school.
The activities focused on communication with students, parents and teachers through the exchange and sharing of knowledge and good practices on hygienic, sustainable and nutritious (HSN) food. As a result, students could be equipped with knowledge about nutritious food, develop their own healthy eating habits, and be confident to participate in the decision-making process on food issues in their schools.
Simultaneously, their parents, teachers and school staff could develop communication skills to teach food and nutrition more effectively.
Ms Nguyen Thi Ban, Deputy Principal of Yen Hoa Secondary School, said: “Our school is willing to participate in the project to develop a series of good food lunch menus for students”.
Sharing the same ideas as Mrs Ban, Mr Nguyen Duc Thanh, Vice Principal of Nam Trung Yen Secondary School, expressed his school's willingness to work on the project to develop nutritious menus for students’' growth at a reasonable price to meet Hanoi Education Department regulations.
Food issues often involve a number of stakeholders. These include schools, parents, pupils, suppliers and those involved in processing food. It was essential to set up the project's coordination committees and core groups. It got everyone talking about what was needed and what was wanted.
The project coordination committees and core groups were established at the beginning of December 2022. Their aim was to identify common problems and set common goals. This would enable them to get the information they needed to make the right decisions about how to feed the schools well in advance.
To begin with, the co-ordination committees took on the role of advising on the planning of actions, monitoring, co-operating and supporting the responsible groups and individuals in the implementation process.
In line with the project’s action plan, core group members, including parents, teachers, kitchen staff and health workers, will work closely with C&E to carry out specific tasks as planned.
Once formed, the core group members, including parents, teachers and kitchen staff, together with representatives from Nam Trung Yen and Yen Hoa secondary school committees, were trained in communication skills and reviewed their existing lunch menus under the guidance of Assoc. Prof. Dr Bui Thi Nhung, Head of School and Workplace Nutrition Division at the National Institution of Nutrition. With the support of a communication expert, they carried out some practical lessons and exchanged ideas.
In addition, school authorities, teachers, parents and students from the two schools participated in an online exchange session with the project advisor on nutrition and health for secondary school students.
"I and other parents hope that, through the project, we can work together with school board members, teachers and school staff to spread the key message of the importance of hygienic, safe and nutritious food for a child’s development." Ms Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhan, a parent representative from Nam Trung Yen Secondary School
Until 2023, Rikolto and C & E will continue to organise events on the topic of nutrition and food in the school. These include reviewing and improving student menus, setting up student food clubs to teach other students how to eat healthy, sustainable and nutritious food at school, and organising visits to the farms of food suppliers.