Many childcare services fall short of recommended nutrition – (press release)

Many childcare services fall short of nutrition

Many Early Childhood
Education centres serving food to children do not have menus
that meet nutritional guidelines, according to research from
the University of Auckland’s Centre for Longitudinal
Research – He Ara ki Mua.

New Zealand Early
Childhood Education (ECE) regulations state that where food
is provided by the service, it should be of sufficient
variety, quantity and quality to meet the nutritional needs
of each child while they are attending. Researchers
collected menus in an online survey of 257 licensed
childcare centres in Auckland and Waikato. Only menus that
comprised lunch plus two or more other snacks or meals each
day for five days were included in the analysis. These were
compared with requirements for half of a child’s
recommended daily intake and variety of foods across the

The mean score for the 57 full menus analysed was
6.8 (out of 10), however only three menus (5 percent) met
all 10 scoring criteria. The majority of privately run
centres did not meet each of the scoring criteria, with the
exception of daily recommendations for fruit.

scores were associated with employing a cook, high or low
(but not medium) neighbourhood deprivation, and
participation in the New Zealand Heart Foundation Healthy
Heart Award programme. There was no association with the
cost of food. The results of the survey are published in the
Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

Lead author Sarah Gerritsen says that more than
half of three and four-year-old children in Auckland and the
Waikato attend early education centres where food is
provided daily.

“The ECE environment is important for
supporting both the intake of healthy foods and learning
healthy eating behaviours,” says Sarah.

“Half the
menus did not contain sufficient quantities of grains
(breads and/or cereals) and dairy (milk and/or milk
products) to meet half of a pre-schooler’s daily
requirements, i.e. two serves of grains and one serve of
dairy per day. There was also a lack of vegetables on the
menus compared to fruit.”

Researchers were concerned
that half the menus included an “occasional” food or
drink which the Heart Foundation’s Fuelled4Life guidelines
state should not be served at childcare centres. These foods
and drinks are high in saturated fat and/or salt and/or
sugar, generally do not contain vitamins and/or minerals,
and provide minimal nutritional value. Examples are
deep-fried foods, cakes, confectionery and

More than half the menus listed too many
“sometimes” foods. These foods may have some nutritional
value but contain moderate levels of saturated fat and/or
salt and/or sugar. Examples of “sometimes” foods are
muffins, plain biscuits, ice-cream and sausage rolls. Early
childhood education centre menus should be dominated by
“everyday” foods, i.e. providing at least four everyday
foods for each sometimes food listed.

Involvement in the
Heart Foundation’s Healthy Heart Award programme was
statistically associated with a higher menu score, even
after adjustment for all other centre characteristics. Half
the cooks in participating centres did not have a recognised
qualification in food safety, hygiene or food service, and
only one in six had had any nutrition training. In most
cases, cooks’ nutrition training consisted of a
menu-planning workshop run by the Heart Foundation.

cost did not appear to be a factor in meeting the
guidelines, with some very good, high scoring menus costing
between two and four dollars per child per day.

study is the first time childcare menus have been
investigated in New Zealand, and provides a baseline for
monitoring compliance with nutrition guidelines,” says
Sarah. “Together with the information about home
environments from the Growing Up in New Zealand study of
child development it provides clear evidence that can be
used for promoting appropriate nutrition for preschoolers
and developing programmes to improve the food supplied in
early education settings.”

Gerritsen S, Dean B, Morton
SMB, Wall C. (2017) Do childcare menus meet
nutrition guidelines? Quantity, variety and quality of food
provided in New Zealand Early Childhood Education services.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public
doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12667

The full
article is available online at

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