A Deakin-led study has ignited calls for national consistency in food provisions at Australian childcare centres making balanced healthy food provisions a requirement.
A study by members of the National Nutrition Network Early Childhood Education and Care found not all menu guidelines meet Australian Dietary Guidelines, especially in their recommendations for vegetables and discretionary foods.
The joint study included researchers from Deakin University, Nutrition Australia Victoria, Edith Cowan University, Queensland University of Technology and Flinders University who reviewed menu guidelines in all states and territories and looked at how these aligned with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Ros Sambell, from Edith Cowan University and Chair NNN-ECEC, said childcare services should not provide discretionary foods and drinks to children in their care.
He said early childhood was a critical stage of growth and development and that poor dietary habits flowed into adulthood with associated weight gain and chronic disease.
Dr Penny Love from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition said two-thirds of one to four-year olds attended a form of childcare and that childcare services had a big role to play in ensuring Australian children are eating well and developing good food habits.
“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 said.
“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.
“The Australian childcare sector has a national accrediting body and it makes sense to establish consistent menu guidelines across the country,” Dr Love said.
“National menu guidelines would also allow for more consistent and cost-effective support and resources.”