NNN-ECEC calls for urgent funding to address ECEC nutrition
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > NNN-ECEC calls for urgent funding to address ECEC nutrition

NNN-ECEC calls for urgent funding to address ECEC nutrition

by Freya Lucas

February 27, 2024

There is a critical need for funding to audit food quality and provision in early childhood education and care (ECEC), Dr Ros Sambell has said, calling for funding to audit the sector and develop a Best Practice Food Environment Guide, fund training for ECEC professionals, and to provide support for authorised officers regarding the expectations of a healthy food environment to transform children’s future through nutrition. 


Dr Sambell, Chair of the National Nutrition Network – ECEC (NNN-ECEC) noted that while there are no prescribed guidelines to ensure consistent food quality across all ECEC services, the limited data collected indicates that most services are failing to meet 50 per cent of the Australian Dietary Guidelines for all food groups when providing meals to children.


Despite being a highly regulated sector, the lack of a best practice guide and consistent national messages in sectoral training makes it challenging for ECEC services and assessment and rating officers to accurately assess the quality of the ECEC food environment nationwide, she added.


The current food environment, Dr Sambell said, is confusing for both ECEC staff and also for authorised officers, with the Regulations “not providing guidance,” something which is “confounded by the lack of equitable free on-the-ground support for the ECEC services nationally.”


As such NNN-ECEC is calling for funding to develop such a guide, which would take a holistic approach to promoting healthy food environments within ECEC services and would include recommendations for certificate and university nutrition training for the current and future ECEC workforce.


“It’s imperative that food provision becomes a standard practice in all ECEC services, and exploring options like quarantining a portion of the childcare subsidy for food provision and professional development for ECEC staff could yield significant economic and social benefits for both staff and children,” she said.


Fellow NNN-ECEC member, Associate Professor Rebecca Byrne, said the sentiments and frustrations were shared by many members. 


“This sentiment is a common issue across all Australian jurisdictions and is frequently raised by the NNN’s 35 members.” 


In an attempt to address what it terms “the critical lack of relevant and consistent data concerning food provision in ECEC services,” the NNN-ECEC is unveiling a comprehensive solution to capture food provision types across the Australian ECEC services, to better inform resource allocation to where it is needed most.


Following two years of extensive consultation with key stakeholders, NNN-ECEC proposes a two-pronged strategy to systematically gather and analyse data on food provision in ECEC services.


NNN-ECEC recommends integrating opportunities to capture food provision methods into existing childcare management and assessment and rating systems, as part of a comprehensive strategy to keep abreast of changes in the food provision landscape of ECEC services.


“By seamlessly incorporating these metrics, ECEC services can provide invaluable insights into their food provision practices, enabling informed decision-making and resource allocation, to support ECEC services across Australia, in a more targeted way,” NNN-ECEC member Professor Amanda Devine said.


Associate Professor Byrne emphasised that the establishment of open-access databases that include comprehensive information on ECEC services’ food provision types, including on-site food, lunchboxes, and third-party food providers, would facilitate evidence-based resource allocation and strategic planning.


“These strategies not only carry minimal costs, as they leverage existing systems, but also promise to yield substantial benefits,” she said.


“By fostering more efficient resource allocation and promoting improved child health and education outcomes, the implementation of these measures represents a prudent investment in the future of our children.”


Learn more about the work of the NNN-ECEC here

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