An important consideration for parents considering child care is what their child will be eating whilst in care – who provides the meals? And where the centre provides meals, what does the menu look like?
Food provided by centres should be nutritious, adequate in quantity, varied and offered at regular intervals. Menu design should ensure that meals provided are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents (NHMRC 1995) and may include any of the following – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and a late afternoon snack. The daily or weekly menu should displayed prominently for parents, staff and children.
Design of the menu should involve collaboration between Centre management, staff and, through appropriate communication methods, parents and children. Parents should be invited to provide menu suggestions and should be told the correct avenues for providing their input.
Meals should be prepared by a dedicated staff member, though parents should be aware that a child care centre cook is only required to undertake a very short course in food handling and hygiene and basic nutrition (regulated minimum standards) and in some states of Australia a dedicated cook is only required once a given number of children are in care.
Parents should also ask about the provision of fluids throughout the day. Water should be the primary drink and be available at all times. Milk may also be provided.
Closely related to their nutrition policy, it is important that child care centres have a policy dedicated to the management of the safe and healthy environment in which children with allergies and/or at risk of anaphylaxis can participate equally in all aspects of the program.
Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. The most common causes in young children are eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, cow milk, bee or other insect stings, and some medications.
An anaphylactic reaction can develop within minutes of exposure to the allergen, but with planning and training, a reaction can be treated effectively by using an adrenaline auto-injector called an EpiPen.
A centre’s policy and procedures should identify clear systems for;
- Managing risk within the centre environment.
- Identifying which children have identified allergies or suffer anaphylaxis. This information should be readily available so that all staff, including relief staff, know which children are at risk.
- Treatment plans for children with identified allergies and anaphylaxis.
- Staff requirements for anaphylaxis management training which includes strategies for anaphylaxis management, recognition of allergic reactions, emergency treatment and practise with an EpiPen trainer, reinforced at regular intervals.
Another consideration for parents related to food includes what arrangements are made for the celebration of special events, like birthdays. Families often wish to provide a cake so that the children can celebrate birthdays but this may not be appropriate given the centre’s Nutrition and Allergy & Anaphylaxis policies. At my child care centre we replaced the traditional birthday cake celebration with a special afternoon tea which was prepared by the centre cook. Instead of cake, the children celebrated with other special foods like dip, vegetable sticks and crackers. The birthday child wore a special hat and blew out candles on a pretend cake and the other children would make a class birthday card for him/her. We felt this was sufficient for acknowledging the birthday child and enjoying a special celebration together and could more easily accommodate those children with special dietary requirements.
Related Posts – The ABC of Child Care series
- A is for Ambiance
- B is for Behaviour
- C is for Communication
- D is for Daily Record
- E is for Early Education
Image above: Pink Sherbet