Promoting healthy eating and nutrition is an essential part of a child care service. It is centred in the National Quality Standard, Quality Area 2: Children’s Health and Safety. However, strategies to encourage healthy eating and positive mealtimes cover all quality areas.
Early Childhood Educators and chefs have an invaluable opportunity to support and encourage the way children in their services approach mealtimes, healthy choices and nutrition. Our influence goes beyond providing healthy meals to supporting good nutrition.
This article looks at different ways Educators and chefs can promote healthy eating and nutrition to children and families. We go beyond menus and recipes to discuss:
- Why eating healthy is important.
- Healthy eating activities and the NQS.
- Strategies to encourage healthy eating in childcare.
- The role of the chef in engaging children in positive mealtimes.
We also invited the team at our Hamilton centre to share with us their initiatives for promoting healthy eating.
Why is eating healthy important?
Food is an essential part of a child’s ability to participate in leisure and play, concentrate, cooperate and learn. Australia has a rising level of obesity among children, and there’s a cause for concern that children lack appropriate physical activity and good eating habits.
During childhood a child establishes the principles for lifelong health and wellbeing. As children spend significant time in early education and care services, they are an ideal setting for promoting healthy eating. Good nutrition supports holistic development.
While mealtimes provide a break from play, ACECQA‘s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, reminds us that they also contribute to:
- Ongoing learning.
- Building relationships.
- Opportunities for positive interactions.
- Providing emotional support.
Healthy eating activities and the National Quality Standard
The national guidelines for childcare cover all areas of care, including food and nutrition. The National Quality Framework makes explicit references to children’s healthy eating activities and nutrition in the national regulations, NQS and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF).
NQS Quality Area 2 details the requirements of early education and care services to promote healthy eating appropriate for each child. The EYLF reflects this standard encouraging Educators “to engage children in experiences, conversations and routines that promote healthy lifestyles and good nutrition” by providing:
- A range of healthy foods.
- Learning about food choices.
- Relaxed and enjoyable mealtimes.
- Healthy balanced lifestyles.
The ACECQA also encourages critical reflection on other quality standards. In particular, how each area influences a child’s healthy eating experience by enabling social interactions, responsiveness, enjoyment, safe and educative mealtimes.
Strategies to encourage healthy eating in childcare
There are many opportunities to promote strategies to encourage healthy eating in childcare. We spoke to Cassie, Lead Educator at Petit Early Learning Journey Hamilton, about promoting healthy eating and nutrition in early childhood and care services.
“Our Educators talk extensively to our children about healthy eating and how vital it is for strong bones and overall wellbeing,” says Cassie. “The children also enjoy and look forward to participating in cooking experiences with the chef.
“We also have a vegetable garden that supplies our chef with fresh herbs and hopefully soon some vegetables. The children love to help with picking the herbs, and this often leads to positive discussions about the smell, taste and texture of freshly picked ingredients.
“It’s vital that Educators are visible role models for healthy eating and for children to be included in the process of mealtimes.” Young children are highly motivated to be included in gardening and cooking, and there are many age-appropriate activities for early learners like food tasting.
Activities based on experiences with growing and cooking fruits and vegetables also encourage the development of other skills like science skills and interests in sustainability, math skills like counting and measuring and fine motor skills through mixing and chopping.
“Our chef, Clarissa actively includes the children in cookery classes and discusses the paddock to your plate element with them.”
The role of the chef in engaging children in positive mealtimes in childcare
At Petit Early Learning Journey, the chef’s role is integral to providing healthy, nutritious and tasty meals and snacks for children at the centre. They also assist with programming elements through suggestions related to food and menus.
A whole team approach is necessary for promoting healthy eating and nutrition. If everyone participates, children are more likely to concentrate better and engage in meaningful learning experiences, as well as to:
- Learn healthy eating habits.
- Make healthy and nutritional choices.
- Have positive body images of themselves.
- Feel good.
- Enjoy physical activity.
Petit ELJ’s chefs are actively involved in kitchen garden projects that inspire children’s passion for fresh ingredients and locally grown produce. Our chefs nurture professional, caring relationships with children to enable enjoyable mealtimes.
We also encourage our chefs to engage and inspire our families’ and our community’s passion for fresh ingredients and locally grown products used in the centre.
Our team at Hamilton recently held a workshop for families on mealtimes where our chef shared a few of her top recipes.
“Many families had commented what fussy eaters their children could be and were amazed that they ate all the food on our menu,” says Clarissa, Hamilton’s chef. “We wanted our families to take away some strategies on how to turn their fussy eaters around.”
Our Hamilton team is eager to raise awareness of the menu and promote healthy eating and nutrition activities with children and their families. The menus offered at all of our centres and include vital dietary nutrients for children and have been designed in consultation with nutritionists with an interest in childhood nutrition.
Promote children’s lifelong healthy eating habits with Petit Early Learning Journey
Are you passionate about promoting healthy eating and nutrition? At Petit ELJ, our teams thrive on providing developmentally age-appropriate programs for children. Learning is an active process and each child is encouraged to investigate and follow their curiosity.
If you’re ready to join a community where you can engage in collaborative discussions about contemporary pedagogy with other early childhood professionals and be encouraged to express original ideas, then apply to a centre near you.