Sanitarium launches new children's healthy eating initiative

Nutrition experts reveal 12 essential food skills every Australian child needs for healthier lifetime eating habits

Australian children have more access to information on healthy eating than ever before, yet busy family lifestyles and ‘convenience culture’ are eroding opportunities for children to learn essential skills that support healthier dietary patterns that may hold the key to better lifetime physical and mental health outcomes.

That’s why the nutrition experts at Sanitarium Health Food Company have joined forces with dietitian Themis Chryssidis and Masterchef™ fan favourite Callum Hann from Adelaide’s acclaimed Sprout Cooking School to develop a new initiative to help children shop, prep, cook and eat their way to a healthier life, just in time for International Cooking Day on Friday 25th September 2020.

Called 12 before 12, the initiative encourages families to empower primary-school aged children around meal selection and food preparation. It challenges children to learn 12 essential food skills before they turn 12 years old, with the aim of making healthy eating easier and enjoyable for life.

12 before 12 also reinforces the importance of family meal times as an opportunity for parents to model healthier eating behaviours and provide children with a much-needed opportunity to reconnect after a busy day at school and play.

Evidence from Sanitarium’s Little People Big Lives report demonstrates this is critical for children’s emotional wellbeing, arguably even more so during the current period of stress and uncertainty.

In helping identify the 12 skills, Themis Chryssidis from Sprout said they were guided by a mission to simplify healthy eating advice.

“Somewhere along the way, the healthy eating message has got so complex. We’ve become overly focussed on looking at food through the lens of nutrients or kilojoules - the micro detail of what we’re eating - that we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture behaviours that make healthy eating intuitive. Food has become over-thought, and it’s not doing us any good.

“12 before 12’s simpler message is: Eat mostly whole plant-based foods, drink mostly water, cook more at home – and for kids, find ways to sprinkle in some fun”, he said.

Grouped into four key areas, the 12 before 12 skills cover the complete food journey from planning meals and choosing nutritious options at the shops, through to the hands-on tools and techniques children need in the kitchen and the social behaviours that make mealtimes a positive experience for the whole family.

These food skills form the basis of a new Sanitarium cookbook, available as a free digital download from the 12 before 12 website. Alongside a collection of healthy recipes that champion vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains, three fun characters - Safety Inspector Sally, Waste Warrior Will and Nutritionist Nate - drop in throughout the cookbook pages to dish out fun facts and handy tips for aspiring home cooks.

Commenting on the initiative, Shane Landon, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutrition Insights Manager, Sanitarium Health Food Company said: “We created 12 before 12 because healthy food habits established in childhood play an important role in our health over our lifetime. One of the key ways to a healthier diet is having the practical skills to make it happen.”

“Food preparation and cooking skills are key ingredients in nutrition education, but we can’t rely on schools to do the job alone, particularly when most meal preparation happens in the home. Teaching children essential food skills needs to sit alongside physical activity as a priority for every Australian parent - and it can be lots of fun too!” said the father of two.

To learn more about the 12 skills and download a free copy of the 12 before 12 cookbook visit

Last updated 22 September 2020