Childcare services fall short

Many early childhood education (ECE) 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.

New Zealand 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 week.

The mean score for the 57 full menus analysed was 6.8 (out of 10), however only three menus (5 per cent) 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.

Higher 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 were published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.