Some children aren't getting nutritional needs met at childcare
The Sector > Research > Some children in disadvantaged communities are not meeting dietary guidelines

Some children in disadvantaged communities are not meeting dietary guidelines

by Freya Lucas

February 13, 2024

Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) have found meals provided in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings in some low socio-economic communities are not meeting national dietary recommendations.


After examining 55 mealtimes at 10 Queensland early childhood settings in communities where the risk of food insecurity is high the researchers found that the quality and quantity of food across the board was low, with meals only meeting 75 per cent of estimated energy requirements.


“Typically, these childhood education centres are providing food that children easily eat, not necessarily what might be best for them nutritionally,” lead researcher Dr Bonnie Searle said. 


The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that children consume a wide variety of nutritious foods across the five food groups: vegetables, fruit, grains and seeds, meat, dairy and alternatives to meet nutritional requirements.


“However, we were concerned to find many centres did not provide enough food and frequently provided low nutrition foods such as kabana, crackers and jam or savoury spread sandwiches on white bread.” 


The amount of vegetables served ranged from zero to just under one fifth of the recommended amounts. 


Problems were also found in services where families provided home made lunches, with children coming to ECEC without enough food, or with food which was nutritionally poor. 


“This research shows that the greatest burden of poor nutrition is being shouldered by children in the most marginalised communities,” Dr Searle said. 


Queensland services do not have access to free menu planning, which means the task falls to staff who have an interest in children’s meals, but who may not have access to the correct education. 


“When you’ve got children with multiple allergies, tight budgets and limited facilities, it’s hard to expect educators with no nutritional qualifications and little time to produce a high-quality menu,” Dr Searle explained.


“Many childcare services are missing an important opportunity to provide food environments that positively influence eating behaviours and food preferences in developing children,” she added. 


“Without adequate nutrition it’s harder for children to learn and regulate their behaviour.”


“We assume we don’t have a hunger problem in Australia because we’re a developed country, but one in six children live in poverty and those children are in real danger of food insecurity.”


The research paper is published in Maternal & Child Health. 

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