ʻAi Pono
I ola nō ke kino i ka māʻona o ka ʻōpū.
The body enjoys health when the stomach is well filled.
— ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #1246

Remember all that jumproping you were able to do in PE? You can probably thank the brown rice and apples you ate earlier. Catching on to some tricky math concepts? Don’t forget to thank the poi and carrots you ate this morning.

Food gives us energy. It keeps our minds alert. Food comes from the land. As Hawaiians, we have great love for the land, and we take good care of it. This practice is called mālama ʻāina. If we care for the land, it will grow healthy food for us.

What kinds of traditional foods did our ancestors eat?

Long ago, our kūpuna (ancestors) farmed plants and animals. They grew many different foods. They fished and gathered limu (seaweed) from the ocean. They ate very little chicken and pork. This was reserved for the chiefs. They ate green, leafy vegetables every day.

Kalo (taro) was the most important food plant. The corm is usually mashed and made into a paste called poi. Kalo is the eldest member of our ʻohana (family). We have great respect for it and take good care of it.

ʻOhana today still grow and eat kalo. We also enjoy ʻuala (sweet potatoes), ʻulu (breadfruit), and uhi (yam). We also eat green vegetables like limu (seaweed), lūʻau (taro leaves), and palula (sweet potato leaves).

We grow other vegetables now too. These are not traditional foods. But they are just as healthy. Some examples are lettuce, bok choy (pictured here), kale, and chard. These veggies have a lot of vitamins! 

How do we grow healthy foods for our ʻohana?

ʻOhana and communities are growing healthy foods. We practice healthy farming methods. Some of these methods are ancient. One kind of farming is called organic. Organic farmers do not use chemicals. They use safe methods. The methods do not harm the land. They do not harm the people who live and work on the land.

One method helps to provide water for plants. The farmer puts coconut husks around the plant. The husks collect water when it rains. The fibers of the coconut husk act like a sponge, so the husk traps water in the fibers. The water is released slowly over time.

This method does not cost money. The farmer does not have to install costly water systems. It’s an ancient method, and it’s smart. The farmer uses materials grown on the land.

Another method helps to feed the plants. The special name for plant food is called fertilizer. An organic fertilizer that we use here uses limu and fishmeal. Limu and fishmeal are mixed into the soil. This makes the soil nutrient rich. A nutrient-rich soil makes plants grow strong and healthy.

By growing our own food, we’re putting our mana (spiritual power) back into the land and into the mouths of our ʻohana. That strengthens our bodies, minds, and spirits. 

What are some of the customs practiced at mealtime?

We learn about food during mealtime. We watch our ʻohana eat. We watch what our ʻohana eats. We learn customs about food. We learn about portion control. How much should I eat? What amount of food will keep me healthy? We also learn about taking only what we can eat and not wasting.

Pule (prayer) is another custom. Many ʻohana pray before we eat. Food is a gift from the akua (god or gods), and so we give thanks. Here is a pule said before mealtime at Pūnana [KA1] Leo Hawaiian Immersion Preschools and in other settings:

I Ola Nō Ke Kino by Pila Wilson and Larry Kimura

I ola nō ke kinoThe body is healthy
I ka māʻona o ka ʻōpūBecause the stomach is full
I māʻona nō ka ʻōpūThe stomach is full
I ke aloha o nā kūpuna (mākua)Because of the love of our ancestors (parents)
E pū paʻakai kākou me ka mahaloLet us share our food together in thanks
Ua loaʻa hoʻi iā kākou ka ʻai  We have nourishment
A me ke aloha And love


There are many Hawaiian akua, and they have multiple body forms. Some of their forms are the foods we eat. Eating these particular foods brings us closer to these akua. By eating these and other healthy foods, we are receiving nourishment to thrive. The chart below shows foods that are a kino (body form) of a Hawaiian akua.

Meaʻai (food)Akua (god)
kō (sugarcane)Kāne
puaʻa (pig)Lono
ʻuala (sweet potato)Lono
ʻulu (breadfruit)
moa (chicken)
niu (coconut)
maiʻa (banana)Kanaloa
heʻe (squid)Kanaloa


What can we do to eat healthier?

Baby lūʻau and graduation parties are a time to celebrate. Many of these parties serve traditional foods our kūpuna ate.

We can learn from our kūpuna. The foods they ate gave them energy to work the land and fish the ocean. We can practice these same customs. ʻAi pono. Let’s eat right. Let’s stay healthy!

Try out these simple, healthy recipes with your ʻohana! They come from the Kamehameha Schools “E Ola Pono: A Native Hawaiian Health Curriculum for Middle School Students.”


Limu Salad
This easy recipe by Herbert Hoe and Kaʻiulani Odom has no firm measurements. You may mix and choose ingredients as you desire.

- 1 bunch hōʻiʻo (warabi or fern shoot)—optional
- Limu, cleaned and chopped
- Tomatoes, diced
- Onions, diced (Maui preferred)
- Cucumbers, chopped or sliced
- Dried ʻōpae (shrimp)
- Shoyu, vinegar, water, and patis (fish sauce)

  1. Set a pot of water to boil.
  2. Mix together shoyu, water, vinegar, and a dash of patis until you have a sauce you like. Put dried ʻōpae in to soak.
  3. Rinse, clean, and break off hard ends of the hōʻiʻo and discard. Blanche the stalks in boiling water. Take out of pot and rinse with cool water. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Mix together hōʻiʻo, limu, and other vegetables.
  5. Pour the ʻōpae with all the sauce over the vegetables. Toss again.


Sweet Potato Surprise
Recipe by Herbert Hoe and Kaʻiulani Odom.

  1. Steam or broil sweet potato 10 to 15 minutes. Do not overcook. You should be able to pierce with a fork.
  2. Turn oven either to 400 degrees or broil.
  3. Brush a cookie sheet with a little coconut oil.
  4. Slice sweet potatoes in 1/4 inch rounds and lay on cookie sheet.
  5. Brush sweet potato rounds with a little coconut oil.
  6. Sprinkle sweet potato rounds liberally with plain cinnamon.
  7. Bake or broil till toasted on top.


Poi Smoothie
The following recipe by Kaʻiulani Odom and Herbert Hoe requires a blender.

- Poi
- Lowfat, skim, or soymilk (try vanilla or chocolate)
- Peanut butter (organic, non-hydrogenated is best)
- Bananas
- Frozen berries (strawberries or other mixed fruit)
- Cut fruit (melons, apples, pears, mangoes, except citrus fruits)
- Crushed or small cubes ice

Put ingredients into a blender and blend. Pour into cups and serve.