Deakin research says children are eating too many refined foods while in ECEC
The Sector > Practice > Deakin research says children are eating too many refined foods while in ECEC

Deakin research says children are eating too many refined foods while in ECEC

by Freya Lucas

August 12, 2022

Children attending early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs in Victoria are snacking too often on refined foods like pikelets and cupcakes, and aren’t eating enough fruit and vegetables, researchers from Deakin University have found


When it comes to staff confidence about what to feed children, or how to improve this situation, nearly two-thirds struggle, or don’t receive any nutrition training, despite being tasked with ensuring children are well fed. 


Delivered by researchers from the University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), those conducting the study said their findings were concerning, noting that only half the centres surveyed used the free Victorian Government funded Healthy Eating Advisory Service, despite it offering training, sample menus, and an online menu planning tool.


PhD candidate and lead author Audrey Elford said there was an urgent need to increase the use of the Healthy Eating Advisory Service because staff who do use the service feel more equipped to plan healthy menus than those who don’t.


“We know there is a concern among childcare providers that ‘healthy menus’, which include more fruit and vegetables, will cost more because of the rising cost of these foods,” Ms Elford said.


“Many people also believe that healthy food will just be wasted because of a mistaken belief that children prefer to eat less healthy food options.”


“Around half of Australian children aged between two and five years of age attend some form of centre-based care for an average of 31 hours per week, or almost four eight-hour days,” she continued.


“While in care, children should receive about half their daily nutritional needs during morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea and even more if they are eating breakfast and a late snack in long day care.”


Given that preschool age children are at a prime age for establishing their preferences for different foods. what they’re eating is not just important for their current nutritional needs but it will potentially influence their life-long food habits.


For the study, 89 Victorian long day care centres were surveyed and 18 supplied their two-week menu and recipes which researchers assessed against current healthy menu guidelines. The childcare centres were also asked what helped or hindered them in planning healthy menus.


“Some of our findings were more pronounced in privately-operated childcare centres compared to community run not-for profit centres but a lack of consistency in our findings means we can’t say the problem is simply a drive for profits,” Ms Elford said.


“More research is needed to better understand the factors that impact healthy menu planning including cost pressures, lack of time or training or other workplace factors.


“Understanding what it takes for childcare centres to provide healthy menus to children is a public health priority as the food provided to children in these settings has an important impact on their nutrition and wellbeing, both now and into the future.”


Access the study findings here. For more information about the Healthy Eating Advisory Service please see here

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