A new school term signals exciting celebrations for early learning services to look forward to. Starting with the Lunar New Year in February, Holi and Easter in March and plenty of birthdays in between, there are many special days to celebrate throughout the year.

For the Heart Foundation, celebrations at early learning centres are an opportunity to bring whānau together and show love through a variety of foods and creative activities.

Used with permission of the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand.

Used with permission of the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand.

Creating nourishing celebrations with whānau and teachers  

Nourishing celebrations can look different for each whānau member and centre. For Heart Foundation Nutrition Advisor and Registered Dietitian, Isabel Carlisle, centres can build their relationships with whānau by including them in the celebration planning and event.

“Having a written policy or guideline developed by whānau and staff can bring everyone on the journey towards their version of a nourishing celebration,” says Isabel. “A policy can also guide new staff if there are changes over the year.”

From swapping sweet treats for gardening seeds in goodie bags, Isabel says early learning teachers across Tāmaki Makaurau have many creative ways to ensure children enjoy celebrations without food as the focus.

“Some centres found great alternatives for traditional birthday cakes, including watermelon cakes or making their own cakes from playdough or mud, which are surprisingly very popular,” says Isabel.

Introducing children to new cultures and tastes

For Isabel, there’s no better time to encourage tamariki to try new foods than during celebrations.

“Cultural food can be introduced in a fun, pressure-free way that makes it exciting,” says Isabel. “There are often stories around traditional foods to engage curious kids, and it’s an opportunity for them to get involved in food preparation.”

An example is during Matariki – centres first learn about Matariki’s connection to harvesting and planting food and whānau members can bring in a vegetable to contribute to creating the Matariki ‘Friendship Soup’.

Tohu Manawa Ora | Healthy Heart Award

The Heart Foundation has a wealth of exclusive resources about celebrations and other topics for centres online through the Tohu Manawa Ora | Healthy Heart Award site. Centres can register to access these resources for free with or without taking part in the programme.


Heart Foundation recipe card 

Friendship soup (PDF) 


Heart Foundation's tips

Nourishing celebrations: how to start (PDF)



For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
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