Does the food group provision in early years' education and care settings in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia, meet national dietary requirements; and how can Home Economics support this?
Home Economics Institute of Australia
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Exercise and Health Sciences/Population Health Research Group
The purpose of this paper is two-fold: firstly, to report on a pilot study that determined food provision within early years (EY) settings and compared these with recommendations that >50% of the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) standard serves should be provided to children in care; and secondly, to explore how high-school home economics students could be involved with conducting similar studies and/or providing support to EY settings in their local community. The study piloted an approach to determine food group provision by weighing raw ingredients at meal opportunities of 252 children aged 2-4 years across eight EY settings over a two-day period. Ingredients were categorised by food group and servings were determined for each meal opportunity. Food group provision by day and by centre was compared to ADG recommendations for 2-4 year old children. Average meat serves were significantly lower than recommended (0.33+/-0.20 serves/day vs 0.5 serves/ day, P<0.05). None of the centres met the 50% recommendation for the five food groups and generally provided more than the recommendation for fat. Half of the centres met recommendations for between three and five food groups, whereas the other half of centres surveyed achieved recommendations for two or fewer food groups (including fat recommendations). These findings translate to inadequate nutrient intakes and potential impacts on the long-term health of young children. The paper contends that there are opportunities for high-school home economics programs to involve students in conducting similar studies, with resulting benefits for both the high-school students and the EY centres. Provision of integrated real-life food and nutrition activities by home economics high-school students would extend student capabilities in emerging health priority areas such as childhood obesity, by understanding the links between food group provision in EY education services. Integration of an assessment methodology for food provision in the EY setting would provide pedagogical significance and an authentic learning environment. This extends the role of home economics to support EY environments and improve health outcomes for children.