Study shows that children in childcare forego healthy eating

child fruit

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Researchers at Deakin University’s Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) found that most daycare centers give children too much refined food, such as menus, and lack nutrition training.

Lead Author, Ph.D. Candidate Audrey Elford said it was concerning that only one of the daycare centers in the study met food standards guidelines.

“We know there is concern among childcare professionals that ‘healthy menus’, which include more fruit and vegetables, will cost more due to the rising cost of those foods,” Ms Elford said.

“Many people also believe that healthy food is simply wasted because they mistakenly believe that children prefer less healthy food.

“Support and advice for healthy menu planning is available through tools like FoodChecker on Nutrition Australia Vic’s Healthy Eating Advisory Service. But only half of the centers we surveyed use this free service, funded by the Victorian Government, despite it offering training, sample menus and an online planning tool.

“We need to increase usage of the healthy eating advice service as staff who use the service feel better equipped to plan healthy menus than those who don’t.”

Ms Elford said recent Australian research had found the average food budget in childcare centers was just US$2 per day per child.

“Around half of Australian children aged between two and five attend some form of centre-based care for an average of 31 hours a week, or almost four eight-hour days,” Ms Elford said. “During care, children should be getting about half of their daily nutritional needs during morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, and even more when they have breakfast and a late snack in long-term care.

“At this stage in their development, preschoolers establish their preferences for different foods, so what they eat is not only important to their current nutritional needs, but potentially influences their lifelong eating habits.”

For the study, 89 Victorian daycare centers were surveyed and 18 provided their fortnightly menus and recipes, which the researchers evaluated against current healthy menu guidelines. The day-care centers were also asked what helped or hindered them in planning healthy menus.

“Some of our findings were more pronounced in privately run day care centers than in community not-for-profit settings, but due to a lack of consistency in our findings, we cannot say that the problem is simply a pursuit of profit,” Ms Elford said

“More research is needed to better understand the factors that impact healthy menu planning, including cost pressures, lack of time or training, or other workplace factors.

“Understanding what childcare centers need to provide children with healthy menus is a public health priority, as the food provided to children in these facilities has an important impact on their diet and well-being, both now and in the future.”


Researchers are working on healthy eating guidelines for child care services


More information:
Audrey Elford et al, Barriers and Enablers to Menu Planning Guideline Implementation in Australian Childcare Centers and the Role of Government Support Services, Public Health Nutrition (2022). DOI: 10.1017/S1368980022001343

Provided by Deakin University

Citation: Study Finds Children In Childcare Forgo Healthy Diets (2022 August 4) retrieved August 4, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-08-children-healthy-diets-childcare. html

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