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The activity programme Matjungelen is all about food. It gives children at nursery schools and after-school clubs a chance to play and learn about which food is good for both their bodies and the planet. For staff, it provides education, suggestions for activities and recipes that follow Norwegian dietary guidelines.
“Matjungelen is a free of charge national public health initiative, and the aim is for as many nursery schools and after-school clubs as possible to make use of it over the coming years”, explains Kathrine Marthinsen, who is the programme’s project manager.
Kathrine is a qualified public health practitioner, and it was just before she completed her studies around ten years ago that she came up with the idea of doing something to help reduce social inequality in health, by providing activities and information for children and young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The result was Folkelig AS, the company behind Matjungelen.
Commissioned by the Directorate of Health
It all started in 2017 as a pilot project commissioned by the Directorate of Health at six after-school clubs in Western Norway. The many positive outcomes led to Matjungelen being further developed and scaled up to a national programme.
“We found that Matjungelen gave after-school club staff a sense of mastery, by giving them new, useful tools that helped the children to become more adventurous eaters”, says Kathrine.
Studies show that many children don’t consume the recommended amount of fish, and since food habits are formed during childhood, it is vital to give children positive experiences with the food they should eat more of.
“After-school clubs are important venues where a very large number of meals are eaten over the course of the year. So if Matjungelen can contribute useful tools for dealing with food and mealtimes at after-school clubs right across the country, we can potentially have a significant impact on children’s diets.”
A few years later she therefore contacted Lerøy, which has been a partner to the programme since 2020.
“We are on board because it is important for us to put seafood on the agenda from a young age, and for children to get information about seafood, and not just other food products, early on”, says Anne Hilde Midttveit, who is responsible for sponsorship, sustainability and quality at Lerøy.
After the programme was introduced, a number of staff members at after-school clubs reported that children had become more fond of fish and seafood.
“That is really positive, as fish provides lots of important nutrients that are good for children’s growth and development, particularly their brain and nervous system.
Recent consumer surveys reveal that seafood consumption by children and adolescents is falling, which is bad news for public health. Eating more seafood would help people to improve their diets and reduce the incidence of lifestyle illnesses.
“Seafood is, and will remain, an important element of children’s diets, which makes it important to give children a chance to learn about the world of seafood so that they develop a natural relationship with seafood as early as possible.
The dietary guidelines suggest that we need people to consume more seafood, so we think it is important to enable them to do this as early as possible”, says Anne Hilde.
Matjungelen has grown since 2017, and it now covers 620 after-school clubs and 265 nurseries all across Norway.
A fish feast with Lerøy
In 2022, Matjungelen organised a drawing competition where the prize for the winner was a fish feast with Lerøy. The winner was Raudeberg after-school club in Måløy, which received a visit from Lerøy’s own master chef Fredrik Hald.
He brought delicious fish and vegetables with him, which he used to teach the children how to create delicious fish meals and fish burgers.
“In these situations I don’t often use a recipe, because the children should be allowed use their senses; to touch and feel the raw ingredients and experience the process of preparing food. When they are allowed to do that, it tastes good, because they have been involved throughout the process, from the raw fish, through adding ingredients, to cooking the finished product”, he says.
Fredrik explains that they started the feast by touching and feeling the fish, because he wanted to show the children that whole fish isn’t weird or dangerous. Lerøy’s chef has lots of experience of preparing food with children.
In the mid-1980s, he taught food and health as a supply teacher at a primary school, and since then he has been passionate about teaching children how fun cooking can be. He thinks Matjungelen does an important job by teaching children to eat healthy and tasty food.
“If we want to make sure that our children eat tasty, healthy seafood, we must teach them from a young age, and many of them don’t learn that at home”, he says.
Although he has also cooked for foodies and royals, his favourite moments involve seeing children learn to like seafood and enjoy their meal.
“Working with children is extremely inspiring and, of course, incredibly important if we want to ensure that people continue eating lots of seafood in the future.
He believes that parents have a really important role to play at home.
“Children must be given the chance to help with the cooking!”, he says.
Matjungelen’s website has lots of great activities and recipes to inspire staff at nursery schools and after-school clubs, as well as parents, to invite children into the kitchen to help.