Kids and food. We all know this is a sensitive topic and every one of us have our own thoughts and beliefs on what we consider an adequate diet. Especially when it comes to our children. These beliefs can be particularly overwhelming and often conflicting in an environment like that of early childhood services where you are trying to cater for the needs of up to 100 + children (and their parents!). There’s one belief that we can all hopefully agree on though – that food affects not only your physical health but also your mental and emotional wellbeing (particularly that of children). Thankfully, now research is beginning to back this up.
Have you ever noticed the decline of a child’s behaviour after a birthday party? This behaviour is due to a combination of the emotional come down from over excitement as well as the intense amounts of sugar, additives and highly processed food they’ve just scoffed down! The same principles can be applied to early childhood services where you also have a group of highly active, excitable children feeding off each others energy. Now, what if you could effectively alter that behaviour and bring about not only a more peaceful environment but also happier, healthier children in the process? And what if I told you that it’s as simple as changing their diets?
Food affects mood. It’s as simple as that. The nutrients found in healthy foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables promote the production of serotonin which helps to balance your mood as well as manage behaviour and stress levels (1, 2). Research shows that there is a link between the food you eat and the effect it has on your mood, with the negative effects lasting even days after the food is consumed (3).
Doesn’t it then make sense to provide our children with foods that will nourish their growing bodies, nurture their developing minds and support their emotional wellbeing?
It has to be said that early childhood services and training organisations are already doing a fantastic job. With early childhood training organisations continually working to improve the level of education provided, including that of nutrition and basic cooking skills. This training along with the onerous amount of regulation that every childhood education and care services are required to follow provides a great foundation for continued education. Again, it is the continued education that is key.
It is with this continued education that early childhood services have a unique opportunity to then educate children in healthy eating behaviors that will ensure a more peaceful environment and set them up with a healthy relationship with food for life.
Let’s look at four ways you can do this in your centre:
- Continue to educate your early childhood cooks and educators in nutrition and whole food concepts.
- Provide nutrient dense food for all children in your care.
- Encourage educators to sit down with the children during meal times, talk to them about their food and encourage them to try new foods.
- Grow something! Plant a herb and vegetable garden with the children (teaches them about the environment, sustainability and saves you money).
It’s fantastic to see that many early childhood services are now ‘additive and preservative’ free (awesome!) but there is still major room for improvement. With a focus on continued education for your early childhood cooks and educators in nutrition and whole food, you can start to make a real difference in the behaviour and health of the children in your care.
It’s time to raise the bar in early childhood nutrition and make Australian standards what others aspire to. Together we can make a real, lasting difference.