It is important your child has nutritious food to give your child all the nutrients their bodies need to grow, and to develop and reach their physical and mental potential.
On the flip side, poor food choices and unhealthy eating habits in childhood can lead to a range of health problems later in life.
The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) recommends children and adolescents maintain a varied diet which includes the five main food groups. According to the NHMRC, children and adolescents need to be encouraged to eat plenty of:
The Council also states that a healthy diet includes:
The balance of these food groups is essential for maintaining your child’s health and wellbeing. You should encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day - the NHMRC’s drink of choice!
Healthy snacks throughout the day will also help maintain your child’s energy levels.
Breastfeeding has many positive benefits for infants, and many services provide opportunities and encouragement for families to continue to provide breast milk for children while at the service. The use of expressed breast milk for feeding babies can easily be supported in child care settings, and families should talk to the service about the policies and procedures they have in place for storing, warming and providing of expressed breast milk to children.
Where possible, the service may also support mothers who are able to return to the service to breastfeed their child throughout the day. It is essential that services recognise that families have the right to decide whether they will breastfeed their child while they are at the service, and each family’s decision should be accepted and respected.
All services will have a policy on healthy eating that outlines how children will be provided with healthy food and positive mealtime experiences. An effective healthy eating policy is important as this will help staff and families understand what foods promote good outcomes for children.
A service that provides food for children should have a policy outlining the service’s responsibilities for meeting children’s nutritional requirements, and how this will be achieved. A service where families provide the majority of their child’s food should have a policy that explains how families will be supported and encouraged to provide healthy food for their children.
Families should be able to easily access the service’s healthy eating policy and be able to participate in the policy’s development and review. Families are encouraged to raise any concerns they have about the service’s nutrition practices, and to suggest improvements to the current policy.
Some children may have very specific food requirements due to allergies/food intolerances, their cultural background or other family preferences. All services work with families to make sure individual children’s needs are met. In some instances, services may need to develop additional policies to promote children’s health and wellbeing e.g. in the case of a child having an allergic reaction to certain foods, the service will need to develop policies and procedures to protect the child.
Child care staff play an important role in supporting children to develop a healthy and positive attitude towards good food choices. They do this through strategies and activities such as:
When families provide all or most of children’s food while they are in care, services can provide families with information to help them make healthy food choices for their children. The service’s healthy eating policy should provide families with clear guidelines about the types of food and snacks that are appropriate.
Where children have specific food requirements, likes or dislikes, it may be helpful for families to speak with staff to negotiate helpful strategies to ensure children’s nutrition needs are met.
Please note that some services may not allow nut products in the service due to possible allergic reactions in children or adults.