This project aimed to develop and evaluate a new vegetable education program for primary schools to increase children’s enjoyment of vegetables and willingness to consume them. Low acceptance of vegetables is a key reason for low intake. Vegetable liking can be learned, and childhood is a critical time in the development of these preferences.

The school environment provides good opportunities to promote vegetable consumption as it reaches all children. A teacher-led vegetable education program (VERTICAL- Vegetable Education Resource To Increase Children’s Acceptance and Liking) was developed consisting of units of 5x1hr lessons across the three stages of primary school, and aligned to the Australian curriculum. The program is based on a sensory science framework and scientific knowledge on increasing vegetable acceptance. Vegetable tastings are a critical part of each lesson. An online training module for teachers with theory and implementation information supports the program.

The effectiveness of VERTICAL on student outcomes was determined in a large cluster randomised controlled trial (1639 students from 25 NSW and SA schools). Students who followed VERTICAL significantly increased their knowledge, ability to verbalise sensations, vegetable acceptance, intentions to increase vegetable consumption, willingness to try vegetables and the number of new vegetables consumed, compared to students who followed the regular curriculum. A survey amongst teachers demonstrated that teachers were positive about the program and its delivery. Importantly, teachers felt it aligned well to the curriculum. Face-to-face training of teachers in addition to the online training had some benefits on engaging teachers but did not affect student outcomes.

Stakeholder engagement was undertaken with nutrition and education experts to determine the best model for national roll-out of the program. The strong scientific evidence base of the program was deemed a critical element for uptake. A state-by-state approach is recommended.

This project has developed and evaluated the tools (lesson materials and teacher training) and platform (website) that will allow for national school access to this program. Media communication can provide initial promotion for the program. To ensure maximum uptake and reach of the program in Australian primary schools to deliver the impact, support and continued investment from suitable delivery/support partners will be needed. State government partners supported by a core team for communication, promotion and coordination of the program seem the best way forward. A further delivery project to ensure and measure implementation and actual uptake is recommended.

Ultimately, the vegetable education program is expected to positively influence vegetable consumption, and therefore increase demand. As children’s food preferences have been shown to flow into adulthood, this program may also contribute to setting lifelong eating habits, increasing future demand for vegetables even further.