National menu needed for childcare
Nutrition experts have called for national consistency in food provision at Australian childcare centres amid concerns many young children may not be getting the right balance of healthy food at a critical stage of their growth and development.
A recent study by members of the National Nutrition Network Early Childhood Education and Care (NNN-ECEC) found not all menu guidelines meet Australian Dietary Guidelines, especially in their recommendations for vegetables and discretionary foods.
Researchers from Deakin University, Nutrition Australia Victoria, Edith Cowan University, Queensland University of Technology and Flinders University reviewed menu guidelines in all states and territories, looking at how these aligned with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Dr Penny Love from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, which led the study, says researchers found many similarities, such as recommendations for grains and dairy foods, but there was inconsistency in two key areas.
“We found the recommendation for vegetables did not meet Australian Dietary Guidelines in four states and territories, and only three states or territories recommended not feeding children discretionary foods,” she says. “This is very concerning. Only one in five two- and three-year-olds in Australia eat the recommended amount of vegetables each day; and almost a third of the total energy intake in this age group is from discretionary foods that are high in kilojoules, saturated fat and added sugars or salt.”
Ros Sambell, from Edith Cowan University and Chair of NNN-ECEC, says childcare services should not provide discretionary foods and drinks to children in their care.
“Providing fewer healthy options reduces the opportunity for children to eat more healthy food,” she says. “Not only is early childhood a critical stage of growth and development; poor dietary habits flow into adulthood with associated weight gain and chronic disease.”
Dr Love says with two-thirds of one- to four-year-olds attending some form of childcare, childcare services have a big role to play in ensuring Australian children are eating well and developing good food habits.
“The Australian childcare sector has a national accrediting body, and it makes sense to establish consistent menu guidelines across the country,” she says. “National menu guidelines would also allow for more consistent and cost-effective support and resources.”