Good nutrition is essential for young children to support their growth and development. Children who develop healthy eating habits from a young age are more likely to continue these healthy habits into teenage years and adulthood.
Whether food is brought from home or prepared on the premises, services have a responsibility regarding food intake and nutrition of children while they are in care. Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services play an important role in teaching children about healthy food and providing positive healthy eating learning experiences. Services can also provide families with information, practical ideas and advice from recognised health authorities about the benefits of healthy food and drinks for their children.
- Early Childhood National Nutrition Guidelines
Children in care should be offered nutritious meals that are based on a wide variety of foods from the 5 food groups. Children who are in care for 8 hours or more should be provided with at least one main meal and two mid meals.
To help services ensure they are promoting and providing the right amounts and balance of nutritious foods, there are a number of key documents that focus on early childhood nutrition and menu planning.
Breastmilk is the healthiest food for infants with exclusive breastfeeding recommended for 6 months. Continued breastfeeding is recommended for at least 12 months and beyond if mother and baby desires.
Services have an important role to play in supporting mothers to breastfeed. Returning to work is a common reason for stopping breastfeeding or for deciding to not start breastfeeding, however, services can inform mothers that breastfeeding is supported in their service.
While exclusive breastfeeding is recommended, factors such as the mother not close by the service to breastfeed baby, inability to express enough breastmilk or a baby unable to take expressed milk from a bottle can all impact on the ability to continue exclusive breastfeeding whilst in care. It is important for all staff to promote that any breastfeeding is encouraged. This could include mum breastfeeding at pick up and drop off but providing infant formula whilst in care, breastfeeding on the days that baby is not in care, or even just continuing early morning and evening feeds. A services’ role is to work with the mother to make her feel supported in whatever is going to work best for both mum and baby.
A parent’s first contact with an ECEC service is often before the arrival of their baby. It is important that early childhood staff discuss breastfeeding with parents at this early stage and outline how the service supports mothers to continue to breastfeed while babies are in care.
- Develop policies that encourage and support breastfeeding
- Display a ‘breastfeeding welcome here’ sign
- Ask about breastfeeding at first contact and at the time of enrolment
- Provide a welcoming environment for mothers to comfortably breastfeed or express breastmilk
- Assure mothers that expressed breastmilk will be stored and handled safely at the service
- Play an important role in providing families with accurate nutrition and feeding information, and that this is reflected in the feeding practices of the service
- Develop an individualised feeding plan for each breastfed baby
Munch & Move provides a range of resources to support your service to promote breastfeeding including:
- Fussy Eating
Some children can be fussy eaters, but remember that the adults decide what foods to offer children and when to offer them while children decide how much they will eat. It can take up to 15 times for children to develop a liking for a food, so it is important to keep exposing children to the food even if they initially refuse it.
To help deal with fussy eaters at meal times try these tips:
- Offer plenty of healthy choices at meals and allow children to choose/serve themselves
- Offer familiar foods with new ones
- Everyone eats together, including educators
- Encourage younger children to feed themselves
- Praise children for trying new foods even if they decide they don’t like it
- Don’t make a fuss if a child refuses to eat, but provide them with praise for trying new foods, even if they decide they don’t like it
- Get children involved in food preparation (growing foods, food preparation and cooking)
- Healthy Eating Learning Experiences
This Healthy Eating Learning Experiences resource has been designed to provide early childhood educators with ideas for fun and developmentally appropriate healthy eating learning experiences that can be incorporated into daily routines, interactions and curriculum.
Learning experiences have been categorised under: books and literature; songs; rhymes and music; experiments; group games; vegetable gardens; and cooking.
There are an abundance of children’s books which promote healthy eating, but when you have your Munch & Move hat on, the key messages can be incorporated into any story!
- Cook's Information and Support
Children in care should be offered nutritious meals that are based on a variety of foods from the 5 food groups that provide 50% of the Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI’s). Children in care for 8 hours or more should be provided with at least one main meal and two mid meals. For services that provide food, planning your menu doesn’t need to be difficult.
As part of the Munch & Move program, your Support Officer can provide your service with a range of resources, training, recipes and menu reviews to help ensure your service is providing adequate nutrition. The Caring for Children: Birth to 5 Years manual includes tools and checklists for planning foods to ensure nutritional requirements are met.
- Healthy Lunchbox Information
A healthy lunchbox contains foods from the 5 food groups: fruit, vegetables, dairy, wholegrain breads and cereals and meats and alternatives. We know that some parents may want extra support to pack a healthy lunchbox everyday, so we have a range of resources that provide lots of ideas to help. These resources include quick and healthy snack options, ideas for including vegetables and fruit in the lunchbox and why water is the best drink.
- Staff Role Modelling
Role modelling is powerful – adults are constant role models to children. In services, children look to staff and educators for cues, it is so important to role model healthy eating habits in your service to help create a supportive healthy eating environment for children. Children pick up on both verbal and non-verbal cues.
Here are some ways educators can role model healthy eating to children:
- Eat with the children and encourage them to try new fruits and vegetables
- Show children you like to eat healthy foods as well
- Talk positively about healthy foods on the menu being served that day, or about the healthy foods they have brought in their lunchboxes
- Drink plenty of water with them at meal times and during water breaks.
Having a service policy that reflects the Munch & Move key munch messages is an important step to show your service is committed to supporting Munch & Move and the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Your Munch & Move Support Officer can assist your service in developing a new policy, or reviewing an existing policy. To help get you started, we have a sample policy that includes all the key nutrition elements including breastfeeding. Download the sample policies, use it as is or adjust it to reflect your service’s practices.
- Staff Training
We offer a range of free training options and resources for educators and cooks working in centre-based early childhood services and Family Day Care Service Providers/ Coordinators in Western Sydney to help you deliver the best program possible.
- Information for Families
Cooks are often a valuable source of nutrition information for families. Munch & Move has a wide range of resources you can use to assist families with their food concerns.
Ideas for providing information to families:
- Display information near your menu
- Display Munch & Move Key Message Posters
- Display boards with information on a nutrition topic (see examples below)
Our Munch & Move resources page has information you can share with families.
- Munch Case Studies
To help get you started or for fresh ideas on implementing Munch & Move in your service, check out these videos from other Munch & Move services to see how easy it is to plan and prepare healthy meals, engage children to try new fruit and vegetables, encourage healthy lunchboxes and involve children in healthy eating learning experiences.
- Munch Resources
We have a wide range of resources available to download to support healthy eating key messages in your services. The resources range from policy guidance, menu planning support, posters and digital files that can be displayed and sent to families to share healthy eating messages, through to classroom activities that promote healthy eating at your services.
New South Wales Child Health Survey 2009-2010
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence. What NSW children eat and drink. Report of the Chief Health Officer 2017, Population and Public Health Division. Sydney: NSW Ministry of Health, 2017
Australian National Infant Feeding Survey 2010-2011