The most important aspect of quality childcare involves promoting children’s health. There are those childcare systems that provide all or most of children’s meals during the care process. However, there are those that involve providing children with supply snacks or expect the families to offer their children with all the food. Irrespective of whether the food is provided or not, it is the responsibility of the childcare service to promote proper nutrition for any child involved in the care service. Moreover, the childcare service should provide the child’s family with updated information about healthy eating. Over the years there have been increased use of early childhood and education (ECEC) in Australia where more than half of children aged 2-3 years attend an ECEC service (Tayler et al. 2016). There is evidence that about 85% of children aged 4-5-year-olds also take part in the ECEC. Some of the most common types of childcare services offered in Australia for children under the age of 5 years include occasional care, family day care, and kindergarten (Harrison 2008).
It is crucial for both services and families are involved fully supplying children in care with adequate and appropriate food that meets the nutritional needs. Providing children with the required nutrients to facilitate healthy growth, they will be able to develop and attain a physical and mental potential. Additionally, the nutritional quality of food offered to children at the care services, by both the parents and caterers themselves, help in promoting a healthy growth and prevent obesity and chronic diseases development among children. Many studies have suggested that there is a clear recognition of and attempts to implement healthy eating strategies at many ECEC’s. Guidelines and checklists such as Get Up and Grow, Nutrition Checklist for Planning Long Day Care Menus (Golley et al. 2012) have been developed to assist ECEC’s to promote and deliver healthy eating strategies.
A recent study by Amanda Cole (Cole et al. 2017) conducted in Australia investigated and examined the relationship in the techniques, procedures, and approaches involved in early childhood education and care services when defining the nutritional sufficiency of food offered to children. This study strongly suggests that satisfactory implementation and compliance with available guidelines and checklists have not been reached. The study shows that there appears to be a lack education and implementation strategies that reach the educators. Furthermore, there appears to be a discrepancy with respect to the role that the parents play in delivering a healthy eating program. The researchers utilized a semi-structured interview research design that was done on the educators and cooks situated at long day care services Through the use of qualitative thematic approach, the anticipated and emergent themes were identified. Comparative analysis was conducted through case-by-case comparisons involving the creation of tables and models. The results of the study were dependent on personal knowledge, experience concerning the evidence-based guidelines and sanctions when determining the nutritional adequacy of the food provided to children. Childcare services, ECEC, have been labeled as the most influential and active settings that help in obesity prevention and developing lifetime healthy eating practices. The researchers highlighted the complications and discrepancies in the provision of food that is nutritious to children. The study also emphasized on the need for childcare services to meet the nutrition guidelines in an attempt to improve the services and food provided to children. Researchers have also documented that long-day childcare staff personnel rely on their knowledge and experience rather than evidence-based nutrition guidelines. Such trends have attributed to the changes and deterioration of the nutritional adequacy of the food provided to children, as more should be done in having a clear policy in each center with all staff training. It is important to develop the program with the parents and encourage the parents to comply.
A recent study was conducted to examine the association between early childhood educators and parents to support and sustain healthy eating to children (Finnane 2017). The primary objective of the study was to have a comprehensive understanding of two-way partnerships between early childhood educators and parents. This was done by focusing on the need to promote healthy eating to childcare children. Finnane conducted interviews, observations and policy analysis with the aim of exploring the policies, procedures, and practices of childcare services about a healthy diet. The findings of the study had a great implication on both the early childhood and nutrition sectors. Again in 2017 another research study in Australian examining the endowment of ultra-processed foods and the impact they have on sodium accessibility utilization in long day care centers. (O’Halloran et al. 2017). The primary objective of their research was aimed at categorizing and assessing all foods, and ingredients. All these foods were made available for a week at Australian long day care centers based on four levels of food processing as well as assessing the influence of sodium from each level of processing. The scholars used cross-sectional research design method. The setting of the research involved collecting menus for lunch, morning and afternoon snacks from the designated LDC centers. Four-level food processing clarification system was utilized to facilitate the assessment of the level of food processing of all foods beverages and ingredients, The research indicated that childcare centers provide foods equal to a low sum daily sodium content constituting more than half of the recommended upper level of intake of sodium for children.
In a study conducted in New Zealand aimed at describing food provision and evaluating menus in childcare services by determining associations with service characteristics concluded that most menus do not meet the current nutrition guidelines. (Gerritsen et al. 2017). The research involved an online survey where three regions of New Zealand took part, in uploading a weekly menu. The uploaded menus were analyzed to determine compliance with guiding principle on quantity, variety, and quality of food provided. The relationship between the services and the menu was established through the use of multivariate and bivariate associations. The findings of this study showed that majority of the menus offered did not meet the nutrition recommendations for quantity and variety of foods. The study could be assumed to provide a standard reference point for monitoring menu compliance in New Zealand, which is a significant public health implication.
Additionally, in the evidence above it is evident that the studies have revealed the development of children behaviors is influenced by the providers and childcare settings. However, the majority of the existing research on children’s nutritional growth has been centered on home setting and parents. Through the use of interviews with child care providers, (Lynch & Batal 2012), aimed at developing a better understanding of the various strategies involved in encouraging healthy eating in childcare sets. The findings of the research indicated that providers utilize a broad scope of strategy, focused on interim goals that do not support the improvement of healthy durable nutritional conducts (Lynch & Batal 2012)
In 2014 a cross-sectional study was conducted in Australia to investigate whether the food provided at childcare service setting meet the 2013 Australian Dietary guidelines. The study findings indicated that a higher number of day-care services offered food that meets the dietary guild lines (Yoong et al., 2014). There was no adequate association recognized between socioeconomic status and locality with food provision services. Such findings were a clear revelation that there exist differences in childcare service correspondence to Dietary Australian guidelines of 2013, which led to the inequalities in the quality of diet and extreme weight gain prevalent among childcare children in Australia (Hardy et al. 2017).
The major concern with childcare services is attributed to the deficiency of abundant provision of vegetables, a finding that is reliable and corresponds with earlier research conducted in the same field (Bell et al. 2015; Ball et al. 2008). Sufficient vegetable intake is predominantly imperative for cultivating community health. According to (Mikkilä et al. 2007), higher vegetable consumption in children is associated with reduced risk of developing future chronic diseases. There is need to warrant intervention support by providing vegetables in childcare facilities. Such interventions should be structured and designed in a way that they could resolve the barriers of healthy food delivery often conveyed by childcare service cooks and administrators (Benjamin et al. 2009).
In conclusion, there are those children who have specific food requirements which could be due to allergy issues or food intolerance. The cultural background could also contribute to such a condition where the children won’t eat certain foods. Therefore, an efficient childcare service should be structured and designed to work with families or patents to ensure that individual children’s needs are put into consideration. In some occasion, childcare services would be required to develop additional policies to support and improve children’s health and wellbeing. For instance, in a situation where a child is found to have allergic reactions due to certain foods, it is the responsibility of the service to develop policies and procedures that would protect the child. Services could provide a child’s parents with information to help them in making healthy food options.