More than 'just the cook"
The Sector > Jobs News > More than ‘just the cook’ – those who feed children are a core part of ECEC services

More than ‘just the cook’ – those who feed children are a core part of ECEC services

by Freya Lucas

May 25, 2023

Those who prepare the meals in early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, whether they are called chefs, cooks, food leaders, or any other name, are integral yet often overlooked members of the profession. 


Chefs, however, are a core part of the wellbeing and education of children, who plan and prepare meals, clean and cook, and engage children in experiences which set up a lifelong relationship with healthy eating. 


They balance complex nutritional needs, meet regulations not only under the National Quality Framework, but also as part of food safety, they ensure that children’s allergens are taken into consideration, and they manage the dietary needs of children from a variety of religions and cultures. 


Typically, chefs are incredibly talented and creative people who collaborate with each other, their teams and the local community to enrich children’s experiences, health and lives.


Recently chefs from Petit ELJ Richmond, Petit ELJ Hamilton and Petit ELJ Caloundra spoke about:


  • How they came to work as a chef in early childhood education and care
  • How their role helps children to learn and grow
  • What they do on a typical day
  • The other passions they share with children at their centre.


Trisette – Petit ELJ Richmond


Trisette began working in ECEC after hearing about the chef role at Richmond through her husband, who was already working at another Petit service. 


On a typical day, she starts by checking in with children and educators while they are engaged in family grouping, to learn more about what they did (and didn’t) like about the meals from the day before. 


The children, she says, are “super honest” and very willing to share feedback. 

At 8am, she begins prepping morning tea, along with accepting deliveries and putting them away. 


Between 9 and 11am, it’s time to wash up from morning tea, and get lunch started. 


“At 11am, I help the educators serve lunch to the Baby Boulevard, Haven Place and Darling Drive studios,” she shared. 


At 11.45 am, she visits the Treasure Cove and Blossom Hill studios to help with serving lunch, followed by cleaning up and documenting the day before starting the afternoon tea which is served from 2 pm.


Before Trisette finishes her day at 4 pm, there’s a sweep, mop and clean up, including unpacking the trollies and dishes.


As well as her usual daily tasks, Trisette pops into the rooms to sing and play with the children, and on Thursdays she works with the children on cooking experiences or science activities involving food. 


Part of her role is also to work with the children to harvest things from the service garden to use in cooking, or to share with the families. 


David – Petit ELJ Hamilton


In his previous professional life, David was a ‘five star cook’ working for a small venue at an airport. 


Looking for a change and wanting to work with children, he jumped at the opportunity to join the Hamilton team, saying “it’s very different from what I used to do, and I enjoy the work-life balance”.


David sees his role as helping children to learn and grow by creating nutritious meals to support children’s health both physically and mentally. In March 2022, he was recognised as Petit ELJ’s Exceptional Team Member for sharing his love for food, teaching children about healthy eating choices, and building their confidence through cooking experiences.


David typically arrives 15 minutes earlier for his 7:30 am shift so that he can comfortably be ready in the kitchen for when he starts to prepare morning tea.


David has a garden bed at the front of the centre where he picks fresh herbs for use in cooking. The children often come to help, and he takes his time to say hello and engage them, listening to their ideas. David is very popular with the children, who fist-bump and high-five him when he visits the studios.


“I do cooking experiences with the children as well. Although I’m not an educator, I interact and engage with the children, encouraging them to try new experiences and learn new skills like cooking and gardening.”


“Last month, we did weekly cooking sessions with the kindergarten children about preparing their own lunch box. Every week we did something different like how to make a sandwich, wrap or pringles, and they actually prepared the food themselves. We did sushi rolls too and it was a really enjoyable experience for the children and myself.”


“I also help the children collect food scraps for their worm farm and support them in looking after their garden out the back where they grow fruit and vegetables. When it is time to harvest, we do it together.”


David enjoys supporting the families with cooking and gardening tips in the centre’s monthly newsletter and often tempts parents with special treats during morning drop-offs.


Rebecca – Petit ELJ Caloundra 


Like David, Rebecca came to Petit with a background in food and hospitality, having been a chef for 20 years, working in restaurants, including running her own. 


When she got engaged and started a family, she began to look for a job that had family friendly hours. The young family relocated from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast in 2018, and Rebecca discovered Petit when she enrolled her young daughter. 


She has been working at Petit ELJ Caloundra ever since. Her daughter is now six and she also has a three-year-old. 


“Working in ECEC has been so humbling and convenient for mum-life,” she explained.


“I believe my role as a chef is more than just cooking for the children. It also involves teaching them, through the foods I choose, instilling a sense of nutrition which we should prioritise for our health and wellbeing. Not only for our body but also for the planet too.”


“Serving a wholefood menu daily gives the children a large variety of nutrients essential for optimum growth and development. It assists with the right kinds of energy to play and grow, concentrate, feel happier and get good rest too.”


“I take care of the plants and veggie gardens at the centre which the children love to help with and talk about with me. I believe it is something that all humans should have a hand in, especially while young,” she added. 


“It is important to grow and see where real food comes from, especially given the amount of non-nutritional foods consumed on a daily basis. Understanding what foods are better for our body and the planet is one of the biggest life lessons we can learn.”


“I recently replanted a patch in the kindy yard with fresh herbs and strawberry plants and explained to the children that it is important for the plants to be cared for and watered each day especially on those hot summer days if we want to see them grow happily for us. The children assist by watering the garden each day with their little watering cans.”


To learn more about working as a chef in an early learning centre, please see here. More information about Petit ELJ is available here

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