Food Dudes is Ireland's national healthy eating programme for primary schools.
It works by positively changing children's attitudes towards eating fresh fruit and vegetables. This is achieved by combining three key elements - repeated tasting, rewards and role modelling - on a recurring 4-year cycle.
Year groups are split into Junior, Intermediate and Senior, with specific approaches for each group. Junior materials are designed for Junior Infants, Senior Infants and 1st Class. Intermediate materials are designed for 2nd,3rd, and 4th classes. Senior materials are designed for 5th and 6th Classes.
Four different fruits and vegetables are tried on rotations over a period of 16 days for Junior Classes, or 5 days for Intermediate and Senior Classes. Junior pupils are read a Food Dudes letter and watch an episode featuring the Food Dudes characters. Rewards and stickers are provided to support eating fruit and vegetable portions, to encourage positive habits.
At the end of the intervention pupils are given a Food Dudes lunchbox to begin Phase 2.
Phase 2 aims to maintain long-term consumption and extends to the home whereby children and parents are encouraged to bring their own fruit and vegetables to school every day in their special Food Dudes lunchbox.
Classroom wall charts are used to encourage and record progress and children receive certificates upon reaching milestones at their own pace over time.
A week of tasting days - Food Dudes Week - are provided in year 2-4 of the cycle. This introduces new intake Junior pupils to the programme, ahead of receiving their full Intervention Phase and allows other class groups the opportunity to boost their consumption in the years between the Intervention, consolidating and extending their learning.
For Intermediate and Senior groups, this is an opportunity to delve deeper into understanding healthy lifestyles and inspire them to become role models for younger classes.
All classes are provided with curriculum-linked resources to support their learning, as well as bespoke Food Dudes Week videos and a Healthy Eating booklet for pupils to use at home.
Schools are encouraged to use their Food Dudes Week as an opportunity to focus on health and wellbeing promotion across the school community and beyond.
This phase maintains long-term programme engagement post-intervention and continued increase in consumption throughout entire school year. This allows children to develop healthy eating habits for life!
The more we taste a food, the more we learn to like it. Evidence shows that multiple tastes of the same food - as many as 15 or more - can be required to establish a liking for that food.
Food Dudes offers children a variety of different fruits and vegetables to try on rotation in an exciting, encouraging way. Across the 3-year cycle, children's palettes are expanded as they sample an assortment of fresh produce and begin to add new foods to their diet.
Food Dudes is based on a scientifically proven model which shows that rewarding can be highly effective at bringing sustained change in children's lifestyles. During the Intervention Phase of the programme, children are intermittently rewarded with eco-friendly prizes after they have tasted the fruit and vegetable portions provided.
The current rewards available to mainstream schools include:
-Fruit and veg themed sticky notepad
-Wooden colouring pencils
-Bamboo ruler pencil
-Aluminium water bottle
Based on teacher feedback, a suite of customised rewards is now being offered to special schools. These rewards have been sourced for children with impaired fine motor skills and include:
-Food Dudes Stopwatch
-Sensory light-up ball
-Coloured lunchboxes from recycled materials
Both mainstream and special schools are supplied with a range of Achievement Certificates and stickers to supplement the larger reward items.
Children are influenced by what they see others do. As they start to form identities in relation to how their parents, family and peers behave, it is important to provide positive role models to help guide them in their actions.
The Food Dudes programme shows children positive role models in the form of the Food Dudes characters as well as their schoolmates, teachers, family and celebrities.
Each day during the Intervention phase, Junior pupils receive a letter and/or watch an episode from the Food Dudes. Both tell tales of the characters in their quest against the Junk Punks, to encourage the children to eat more fruit and vegetables.