Just recently, Foodie Shots had the pleasure of spending the day in the studio, which sits on Jarowair and Giabal land, capturing images for a second cook book with Morgan Josey-Grindrod. Morgan is a nutritionist, owner of That Food Girl, and local facilitator of Tucka-Time. Tucka-Time is a program created by the Centre for Rural and Regional Indigenous Health (CRRIH) and CheckUp to educate and involve kids in their food preparation, nutrition values, and choices. The premise behind the program, and the innovation CRRIH has shown in adapting and changing it to suit other groups, resonates with us at Foodie Shots so much that I wanted to share more about what it is they do and why.

The Tucka-Time program began in Biloela back in 2016, with the original idea simply to run a one-off course educating the current class of Indigenous kids on better food choices. With the disparity of health and food education available to Indigenous communities, this was especially important. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, Indigenous childhood obesity increased by 7% between 2013 and 2019. There was also a rise in chronic health conditions and a drop in the consumption of recommended daily fruit and vegetable, while Diabetes remained one of the leading causes of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Food education seemed the perfect start to a long-term goal of better health for Indigenous communities.   

While food education was the over-arching goal of Tucka-Time, there were also a couple of hidden agendas. Most important among these agendas was to establish a desire to attend school and learn. To participate in Tucka-Time, the students had to achieve 80% class attendance and, not only attend homework club, but complete their homework as well. The first small group (six kids total) not only achieved this but had their parents attending, because the students were so involved and interested in food and meal prep at home.

This initial one-off program in 2016 was such a success CRRIH sought funding and, in 2017, began a yearly Tucka-Time program. This has since developed into a suite of workshops involving not just school students, but young males, mum and bubs and elder groups. They’ve even had recent interest from Industrial groups requesting a similar concept for their workers.

The premise stays the same in each Tucka-Time program: six to ten weeks of classes, focused on creating better knowledge around good food choices, within a reasonable budget and with basic cooking skills. However, the classes are about more than just cooking, with a nutritionist and psychologist often accompanying the team. The nature of the course also ensures community develops within participants, as they engage with and encourage their peers both during and after the workshops.  

This community engagement with better food choices is one of Morgan’s favourite achievements of Tucka-Time.

“I have seen kids go from eating no vegetables to willingly trying and eating a variety of foods after the 10-week program,” Morgan told us. She continued, “My goals (as a nutritionist and facilitator) were to get local mob eating well and learning about what foods are right for mob to lessen disease and sickness, especially with the next generation.”

These goals are slowly coming to fruition for Morgan, who regularly chats to parents about the positive changes in their whole family’s eating habits. This is also what the cookbooks are about. With both participants and parents often asking for the recipes made in the classes, it made sense to put them all together. Each program participant then gets a copy of the book as part of the program, along with an apron, bandana, and some utensils.

The book is full of recipes that are nutritionally balanced, but easy and cheap to recreate, including a number of more traditional recipes, like Bully Beef-a dish gaining recent fame on tiktok as well. While they may be simple, the recipes are also delicious. The energy balls Morgan brought along had us all mmm-ing while still gobbling away, and just the smell of the saltbush damper made our mouths water.

Speaking of saltbush, did you know that only 1-2% of Australia’s  bush tucker businesses are owned by Idigenous Australians? Morgan mentioned this to me at the photo session and, always wanting to support ethical business, I did some research. Even as it becomes trendier, many First Nations food businesses are hampered by unethical practices by business partners or people simply buying for convenience rather than supporting Aboriginal-run enterprises. However, there is no lack of passion from Indigenous groups—they want to share their knowledge of traditional foods and culture.

Could Tucka-Time be a way to do this? Morgan expressed the connection kids in the program had to the food through its connection to culture and country, but also the learning non-Indigenous students not only enjoyed but benefitted from.

“I think everyone needs to learn more about our culture and foods, we are the traditional owners of this land and our culture should be shared and known.” 

This is why we just knew Tucka-Time and Foodie Shots belonged together. Food is culture, and family, and tradition. It’s memory, story, emotions, and so much more that you can’t have without the meaning behind the food. What a way to not only educate on health, but also get Aussies—Indigenous and non-Indigenous—learning more about our First Nations people and their land! But also, how incredible that a school program aimed at children has created a template for a way of educating people on both better health and culture?!

In fact, a brilliant example of this is in the origin of the macadamia nut. Macadamias are native to Australia, however their native name is not macadamia, but Baphal. Although, given there are over 250 Indigenous languages with roughly 800 unique dialects, there’s plenty of other names they are also known by, each with a dreaming story to match. This is a great addition to the Tucka-Time classes, allowing the kids to learn their history while developing better food choices. Not to mention being a brilliant learning experience for us at Foodie Shots while we photographed all the recipe items.

Of course, I had to ask Morgan for tips on better eating, particularly on getting kids to eat better. She specialises in picky eating as a nutritionist, so it was hard for her to pick just one, but her answer feels like it applies as much to adults as it does to kids:

“I would say exposure would be the biggest one, exposing kids to different fruits and vegetables every day, having them available at the front of the fridge as snacks, involve them in choosing and cooking these, parental modelling, you will find by repeated exposure and involvement kids will try more. Also, remembering It takes at least 10 times for the brain to know if it likes something or not, so keep trying with the kids. (That’s a fun fact I share with the kids in my program, it actually helps them to understand you may not like something straight away and have to keep trying and cooking them in different ways)”

Oh, you know what else is super cool? Just like Foodie Shots, the program pivoted last year during covid, and ran online cooking classes, so the kids wouldn’t miss out!

This was our second time working with Morgan and the Tucka-Time Team, but hopefully not the last. I love that they are so passionate about using food as a tool to bring the kids (and community) back to country and help them engage in the classroom. I also love the adaptability of the program, allowing it to be adjusted for different communities and groups. What brilliant and exciting way to develop better food (and learning) habits, while also allowing kids to connect with their history and culture?