Amanda Lockeridge, State Program Manager for Munch & Move at NSW Health, writes about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for young children.
One in four Australian children are overweight or obese. Causes of obesity in children include unhealthy food choices and lack of physical activity.
We know that good nutrition and physical activity for young children are vital to support healthy growth and development, to prevent illness and to provide the energy children need to power through their day. It is also important to lay the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle from a young age.
As many children spend significant amounts of time in early childhood education and care services, these services provide an ideal setting to promote and foster appropriate healthy eating and physical activity habits early in life.
So how do we support children to learn about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity?
“We can make endless plans, but the true magic of teaching and learning comes from spontaneous, genuine and thoughtful interactions, provisions and relationships with the children,” said Jennifer Wood, Early Childhood Training and Resource Centre (ECTARC) Munch & Move Trainer.
“Promoting a play-based, child-centred environment encourages children to create, explore, practice and interact with materials, equipment, peers and adults.”
The National Quality Framework acknowledges the importance of children’s nutritional and physical health needs and that learning about healthy lifestyles should underpin services’ everyday routines and experiences. This is supported through Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety, Standard 2.2 – Healthy eating and physical activity are embedded in the program for children, and the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care, Learning Outcome 3 -Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.
Ideas on implementing Quality Area 2
Element 2.2.1 – Healthy eating is promoted and food and drinks provided by the service are nutritious and appropriate for each child.
- Have a nutrition policy (for food provided by the service and/or the family in the lunchbox). Involve children, families and other agencies (such as Munch and Move) in developing the policy.
- If the service provides food, display a weekly menu.
- If families provide the food, make available some suggestions about healthy food options.
- Food and drinks provided by the service should be consistent with the recommended guidelines for education and care services in Australia, e.g. the Get Up & Grow Guidelines and/or the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
- Discuss healthy eating and fruit and vegetables with the children at mealtimes, offering a range of foods from different cultures.
- Involve children in activities that focus on nutrition throughout the educational program. Some activities include setting up the lunch area as a restaurant, creating a vegetable garden, implementing cooking experiences, creating a healthy lunch book that includes recipes, sharing food photos and children’s conversations, using photos to encourage the drinking of water and promotion of fruit and vegetables.
Element 2.2.2 – Physical activity is promoted through planned and spontaneous experiences and is appropriate for each child.
- Maintain a balance between spontaneous and planned physical activity, and passive and active experiences.
- Encourage each child to participate in physical activities according to their interests, skills, abilities and their level of comfort.
- Talk to children about how their bodies work and the importance of physical activity for health and wellbeing.
- Encourage and participate in children’s physical activity.
There are other important links that can be made with:
- Standard 3.2 – encourage and support children to participate in new or unfamiliar physical experiences and encourage children to use a range of equipment and resources to engage in energetic experiences.
- Element 5.1.1 – provide children with relaxed, unhurried mealtimes during which educators sit and talk with children and role model healthy eating practices.
- Element 6.2.2 – communicate with families about healthy eating, by providing information through newsletter snippets, fact sheets, photos, emails and face to face discussions.
- Element 7.3.5 – develop a physical activity policy.
Lisa Booth, Director at Wallaroo Children’s Centre in NSW, recognises the importance of encouraging healthy eating and physical activity.
“We encourage and support children by providing nutritious meals and a water station that the children can access,” Lisa said.
“Physical activity and healthy eating are embedded in all areas of the curriculum. Educators understand the importance of promoting children’s health and well-being through both planned and spontaneous experiences.
“By using learning experiences such as music and movement, dramatic and creative play, outdoor activities and group games, the educators intentionally provide children with play-based experiences to support their learning.”
There are a number of resources that support educators and services to promote and encourage healthy eating and physical activity through relevant learning experiences, resources and interactions.
- Get Up & Grow
- How to series – Promoting Healthy Eating In Education and Care Services
- Munch & Move (New South Wales)
- Achievement Program (Victoria)
- Move Well Eat Well (Tasmania)
- LEAPS – Learning Eating Active Play & Sleep (Queensland)
- Right Bite Policy for schools and preschools (South Australia)
- Kids at Play (ACT)
- Department of Health (Northern Territory)
- Contact Child Australia (Western Australia)