Getting Brave With Food

Down in Banks Peninsula at Diamond Harbour School where our partner charity Garden to Table run their programme, 10-year-old Abby has taken the learning to heart. Since getting her hands into the kitchen and garden at school, she’s been through an incredible transformation around food. We caught up with Abby and her awestruck mum to learn more.


When Abby grows up, she wants to be a ballerina. Or maybe a basketball player. Though for the meantime, she’s a Year 6 student at Diamond Harbour School on Banks Peninsula and an avid member of the Future Problem Solvers group there, which examines emerging challenges like sustainable protein production and ‘space junk’.

She says her favourite food will forever be Spaghetti Bolognese. But as her mum Nicola points out, her take on the dish looks very different than it did just 2 or 3 years ago.

“She used to pick all the vegetables out. Or I had to cook it all day until she couldn’t tell they were in there anymore. Now she likes it with lots of vegetables in it.”

So what spurred the change? Abby became involved with the Garden to Table programme, which works with primary schools across New Zealand to facilitate the growth, harvest and preparation of fresh ingredients by the students as part of their regular school programme.

Abby and Diamond Harbour School Kitchen Supervisor Maria

Recipes are tailored around what is grown in the garden and meals are prepared by the whole class and then eaten together.

When the programme started it was nerve-wracking for Abby, who feared being left out by peers who were more willing to try adventurous ingredients. But she quickly learned to love the satisfaction of planting seedlings in the garden, tending to the chickens (except for the one really grumpy one) and then the joy of turning those ingredients into beautiful dishes.

This year’s most popular new addition to the programme is Masterchef favourite, the ‘Mystery Box’.  Students are given a list of disparate ingredients a couple of days before cooking class and then asked to prepare dishes which utilise them all.

When Abby talks about it, she giggles about some of the strange creations they’ve made and admits that there are a few boys in Year 7 who really just like to eat food. A lot of food. Preferably covered in salted caramel sauce.

Since she began learning how to grow and cook food for herself, Abby’s confidence has grown and grown. She beams about how Kitchen Supervisor, Maria, granted her a ‘Knife License’ earlier this year as part of her efforts in preparing Diamond Harbour’s Harvest Festival. This involved a full weekend of cooking and culminated in a 3-course meal for 100 guests.

Maria couldn’t believe it when she learned how challenging it had always been to get Abby to eat at home.

“When Abby’s parents first told me that Abby was a fussy eater, I didn’t believe them because I was seeing a totally different child here at school. Abby sat with her peers and ate and tried everything.”

Nicola admits that, “at home, I used to try like once a week to make her something different. But eventually I had to give her what I knew she would eat. I would end up making what I called ‘Abby Food’ most nights. Hardly any veggies and everything separated on the plate. She would never eat something like a curry where everything was all mixed together. Now she loves curry.

Abby shows her knife skills by chopping up parsley 

Abby shows her knife skills by chopping up parsley 

Their family has also learned to enjoy eating out together. Where Abby used to find this very challenging, she is now enjoying trying new dishes in restaurants with her family.

And that courage extends to trying new things in general too. Her favourite subject used to be reading. Then writing. These days, it’s maths.

“With the Garden to Table programme, it opened my mind up. Before, I wouldn’t try new things like maths. It was beyond just food. All new things made me nervous. When I started being less nervous about food, that kind of changed everything else. It opened my mind to different things.”

Abby even courageously ate a pan-fried locust provided by edible insect wholesalers Anteater for her Future Problem Solvers group, something she never would have dreamed of before!

Abby bravely comps down on a native NZ locust

Words by Bex De Prospo of Anteater
Images by Steve Howard

Garden to Table run food education programmes in schools across NZ. If you're interested in supporting them towards the dream of operating in every school here, learn more about their work and give your 1%!