Nutrition experts call for national consistency in food provision at ECEC services
Findings from a recent study by members of the National Nutrition Network Early Childhood Education and Care (NNN-ECEC) has raised concerns that many young children may not be getting the right balance of healthy food at a critical stage of their growth and development.
The study found that not all menu guidelines meet Australian Dietary Guidelines, especially in their recommendations for vegetables and discretionary foods after reviewing menu guidelines in all states and territories and evaluating these against the national guidelines.
Conducted by researchers from Deakin University, Nutrition Australia Victoria, Edith Cowan University, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Flinders University, researchers found two areas in which there was inconsistency between state and federal guidelines.
“We found the recommendation for vegetables did not meet Australian Dietary Guidelines in four states and territories and only three states or territories recommended not feeding children discretionary foods,” lead author Dr Penny Love said.
“This is very concerning. Only one in five two and three-year olds in Australia eat the recommended amount of vegetables each day; and almost a third of the total energy intake in this age group is from discretionary foods that are high in kilojoules, saturated fat and added sugars or salt.”
NNN-ECEC Chair Ros Sambell said ECEC services should not be offering discretionary foods and drinks to children in their care.
“Providing less healthy options reduces the opportunity for children to eat more healthy food and, typically, discretionary foods cost more than whole foods, which makes them expensive as well,” Ms Sambell said, emphasising the importance of early childhood as a critical stage of growth and development.
With two-thirds of one to four-year olds attending some form of childcare, ECEC services have “a big role to play in ensuring Australian children are eating well and developing good food habits,” Dr Love said.
“The Australian childcare sector has a national accrediting body (ACECQA) and it makes sense to establish consistent menu guidelines across the country,” she added, noting that national menu guidelines would also allow for more consistent and cost-effective support and resources.
To learn more about healthy eating in an ECEC context, please see here.