Sagewood COO responds to UWU survey about food budgets for children in ECEC
Following a recent report based on a survey from the United Workers Union (UWU) that found some early childhood education and care (ECEC) services are allocating as little as 65 cents per child per day to their food budgets, Jay Barr, Chief Operating Officer of Sagewood Early Learning made contact with The Sector, seeking to present a different perspective on provider approaches to children’s nutrition.
“Media and centres need to focus on positive outcomes and promotion of the quality outcomes we provide each day and reflect upon the struggles to put in place strategies to overcome them,” Ms Barr said, prefacing her interview.
“If we keep painting a negative approach to our sector then we will never move forward.” An extract of a conversation between The Sector and Ms Barr appears below.
Whole foods at the heart
Sagewood, Ms Barr began, aims to help children grow and develop into healthy adults, and one of the ways this is achieved is through working with nutritionist and early childhood educator Aspen Forgan, under her business Nourished Beginnings.
Menus are planned with an emphasis on whole food, that is food which is eaten as close to its natural state as possible with no additives, unprocessed, unrefined and little to no traces of chemicals.
Along with this approach to preparation is a focus on sustainability – thinking about the process of food to plate, enjoying the food, and noting the nourishment it gives.
“Wholefood is real food,” Ms Barr explained. “In our centres, our educators sit down and enjoy meals with our children and talk about food. To explain the foods that are nourishing for our bodies and why. Children that might be fussy eaters won’t have food hidden, i.e. spaghetti with pureed vegetables in it. Rather, the individual components of meals can be separated so children can see and make informed choices about what they are eating.”
$2.55 per child per day
We asked Ms Barr about how her service arrived at a figure of $2.55 per child per day for its food budget, noting that the average figure for services in the UWU survey was $2.15 per child per day.
“This budget has been set to ensure we can deliver a menu to meet the daily nutritional needs of the children, and ensure there is enough for the children to eat,” she explained.
“In reviewing menus and budgets and ensuring that children are satisfied with their meals this figure has been budgeted for. Choosing seasonal vegetables and fruits allows for more effective budgeting and cooking foods in their whole state is cheaper than buying packet foods premade.”
Responding to parental concerns
With the high levels of publicity associated with the UWU report some families have approached their child’s service to ask more about budget allocations for meals. We asked Ms Barr what her response would be to services who were having difficult conversations with families concerned about the UWU findings.
Educators, she said, need to advocate for what they believe is right, follow in house grievance procedures, and contact the regulatory authority if they believe children’s rights, including those relating to food, are not being met.
For families, she suggests doing research into menus and budgets prior to enrolment, and that those who receive an unfavourable outcome from their initial conversations in relation to food budgets consider removing their child from care.
Think of the kitchen as the heart of the service
“The kitchen is generally the heart of the home, and it is the heart of our services too,” Ms Barr explained.
Kitchens in Sagewood services are constructed in such a way that children and families can interact with cooking staff, and cooking is an important part of the curriculum with children developing skills in nutrition, mathematics and STEM through participation in cooking experiences.
Ms Barr explained that while the ECEC sector in its entirety is experiencing recruitment pressures, including for qualified cooks and chefs, this is a challenge which can be overcome with sufficient budgets, support, training and a culture that is positive and promotes quality.
“We pay our cooks above award, we are flexible, and they have a well-resourced kitchen,” she continued.
“Our cooks are made to feel part of our team. If we keep painting a negative approach to our sector then we will never move forward. In every job, every industry there is always a struggle or something that can be improved on but if we only ever focus on that, that is the only result you will ever achieve.”
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