School of Medical and Health Sciences
Food connects people, and can significantly impact the physical, social and emotional development of young children. Food sharing and family-style mealtimes can support healthy eating practices and psychological well-being among young children, and carersother than family members, such as Early Childhood Education and Care staff, play an important role in the provision of these practices. Despite increasing numbers of Australian children attending Early Childhood Education and Care services, there is often reluctance among staff to promote such mealtime practices, to the detriment of children's social and emotional development. The aim of this paper was to focus on the potential role of Early Childhood Education and Care services in facilitating food sharing and family-style mealtime practices in the earliest stages of the lifespan. A qualitative, netnographic approach was used, and data was collected as part of the broader 'Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare' (SNAC) study, via online conversation threads, observations and qualitative interviews. Findings demonstrated that whilst many Early Childhood Education and Care services are committed to supporting food sharing and family-style mealtime practices, a number of barriers were reported. These included the perception that babies and toddlers could not participate in these practices, concerns about food hygiene and cross contamination of allergens, and negative parental influences on food sharing. In conclusion, this paper supports the practice of food sharing in Early Childhood Education and Care settings and calls for them to become embedded in everyday operations to support the physical, social and emotional development of Australia's future generations.
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