Would you spend 50 cents per day for healthier kids?

Published on Tuesday, 11 August 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Fifty cents per child per day is all it would take to improve the nutritional value of food at long day care centres, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

An ECU research team surveyed menu offerings from 30 long day care centres in metropolitan Perth and found that by increasing their food expenditure by just 50 cents, they were four times more likely to meet food provision recommendations.

Lead researcher Ros Sambell from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences is now calling for food expenditure recommendations for long day care services.

“This sector is highly regulated, and for good reason, however current regulations relating to the food being provided for our children are overly broad,” she said.

“We’re calling on the sector to adopt recommendations that adequately outline appropriate spending on food.”

“This research shows that with a minimal increase of just 50 cents per child per day on food, we can make a big difference to the nutritional value of food being offered at long day care centres.”

Smart spending is the solution

The research also showed long day care centres were, on average, spending just $2 per child per day on food.

However, Ms Sambell said the centres that were spending the most on food were also offering the most discretionary foods like cake and sweets.

She said it wasn’t just the amount of money being spent on food that was important, but also which food groups were being targeted to best support children’s healthy development.

To meet minimum nutritional recommendations, centres should be allocating an extra 50 cents per day to provide more lean meat, canned legumes, vegetables, milk, hard cheese and yoghurt, according to Ms Sambell.

“Improving nutrition for children has short- and long-term positive impacts on cognitive and physical development,” she said.

“By including the right kinds of foods in kids’ meals, we can make a big difference to their overall health and wellbeing.

“This is a big challenge for long day care services, especially in the current cost-restrictive climate, but with appropriate policy changes and training for services and key staff we can make important changes.”

The scale of the issue

In 2019 nearly 1.4 million Australian children attended some form of early education and care service, including long day care, family day care or out of school care.

“These services are providing more and more education and care for Australian children and their families, so there’s an opportunity here to make a significant contribution to public health,” Ms Sambell said.

“The type of foods offered to children, how they are offered, and how and when they are consumed, is an important part of the food provision message that can positively impact children’s future food decisions.”

The research was published in Nutrients and is available on the journal’s webpage.

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