NEWCASTLE will soon become home to what is believed to be Australia's first vegan preschool, with meals including tofu mac and cheese and chickpea 'tuna' sandwiches.
Set to open on a 2000-square-metre site in suburban Barnsley within weeks, the Sustainable Play Preschool's curriculum is based upon an ethos of environmental responsibility.
It is the brainchild of 28-year-old Llewellyn Jones, a qualified carpenter raised in Sydney by vegetarian parents who moved to the region a decade ago.
An adherent of a plant-based diet for six years, Mr Jones said his decision to launch the plant-based pre-school for kids aged three to five was "purely ideologically driven" and also enabled him to utilise his skill-set during construction.
Once a residential home with a ballet studio at the rear, the preschool has been refurbished using recycled timbers and materials, has solar power, rainwater tanks and vegie patches, and expansive outdoor play areas.
"I wanted to do something around plant-based food and, more broadly, sustainability," Mr Jones said.
"I like food but I'm not a foodie so where is the best use of my skills and I guess moreso where's the most need? It started to evolve that early education was the obvious answer. If you have anything that you want to see more of in society, you try and build that into early education."
With a Certificate Three Trainee qualification as an Early Educator, he worked with the centre's director, Kirsty Parker, who has more than a decade of early education experience, to develop the centre's sustainable ideology.
The preschool is waiting for final approval to open and will stage an open day on Saturday. Students will take part in sustainable routines like composting food scraps, growing food in the garden, preparing meals with the cook, and participating in bush kindy excursions.
The school's teaching philosophy utilises play-based learning and an "I wonder" approach, encouraging STEM activities, small groups, and risky play - aiming to support children's development holistically.
Mr Jones says the centre was "working towards" best practice on all it could - from composting to recycling - in conjunction with its efforts "to make a difference in the world" with its conservationist, sustainable ethos.
He said while many early education centres embraced environmental practices such as vegie patches and composting, his preschool's unique offering was to bring as many many practices together.
"The massive point of difference is our meal offering as a plant-based diet ... We are genuinely trying to do the best on all fronts and get a community around us who are collectively working toward that."
Feedback from opening days has been positive and, says Mrs Parker, appealed to families who were not vegan: "They look at the menu and say wow it looks great."
Acknowledging that for some the word "vegan" is a deterrent, Mr Jones says he hopes the preschool will appeal to a broad base.
"The way I would like to view what we are doing is that they become practices, procedures and activities which are part of a normal routine and they are not viewed as extra, it's just how it's done," he said.
"Children are people who are becoming their own people and influence their families and schools."
The preschool's vegan cook Brooke Ravenscroft will serve a range of registered dietician-approved meals including rainbow nachos, carrot wholemeal pikelets with soy yoghurt and banana "nice cream".
Designed by Edible Kids' Gardens, the two outdoor play spaces encourage play-based learning include an indigenous mural by local artist Jasmine Craciun
The preschool is approved for government support Child Care Subsidy and Mr Jones has plans for other locations.