By GEORGETTE MARCH.
Goodstart Early Learning Linden Park is scheduled to become the 200th child care in South Australia to attain a Start Right, Eat Right award recognising healthy eating and food safety.
The Start Right Eat Right (SRER) award was introduced by the state government in 2005 as an initiative to train and accredit Long Day Care Centres (LDCC) meeting specific nutritional and food safety criteria.
Goodstart Early Learning Linden Park’s 2IC, Dianne Weissenbock, said the Centre had “always encouraged and supplied a healthy diet (to children)” and decided to nominate for the SRER accreditation “[as] just a way of ensuring… the children’s nutritional needs are catered for”.
Under the award, LDCC’s must cater for at least 50 per cent of a child’s daily nutritional requirements and have their menus checked by dieticians to ensure a balanced diet. There is also a food safety training component chefs and directors must complete.
Goodstart Early Learning is expected to complete the accreditation process and become formally recognised as the 200th holder of SRER accreditation this May.
Ms Weissenbock said her staff are promoting the introduction of the program by making recipe books for children and their families.
“Our cookbooks include meals based on a family of four and the children are quite excited to be taking them home to share with their mums and dads,” she said.
The SRER program is not mandatory; however, centres see the benefit in obtaining the accreditation.
Director of Magill Campus and Community Children’s Centre, Penny Thompson, explained SRER keeps centres abreast of changes in the latest health recommendations for children.
For example, this January, portion sizes of some foods were amended to reflect new recommended daily intake advice given by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
“Parents are extremely impressed with it (the SRER program) too,” she added.
Working mother, Karryanne Johnson, says appropriate nutrition will be a key consideration for her and her husband when selecting a care provider for their two-year-old daughter.
“I am conscious of what I feed my daughter,” she said, explaining that she frequently checks nutritional information and researches on the Internet to guide her choices.
Mrs Johnson explained she would expect a high degree of concern for her child’s wellbeing from any care provider.
“If you put your child in someone else’s hands, you want them to be looked after just as you would look after them and give them the same amount of care as you would give them yourself,” she said.
Only Long Day Care Centres – that is, centres open for eight hours or more per day, five days a week and 48 weeks per year – may apply for the SRER award.
Of approximately 220 Long Day Care Centres within the State, 90 per cent will have achieved the SRER award by May this year.
As of 30 June 2011, 337 licensed child care centres, 816 DECS sponsored family day care services, 87 Occasional Care providers and 334 Out of School Hours or Vacation Care programs were providing care for children, according to a report released by the Department for Education and Child Development.
Scotch College’s OSCH is not classified as a LDCC and is therefore unable to apply for the SRER accreditation.
Scotch College OSCH and Vacation Care Director, Annie Kruckemeyer, said good eating habits have always been incorporated into her programs.
“What we offer is an array of cut up fruits and vegetables, and cheese and crackers in winter. Occasionally we might have some healthy cooking projects,” said Ms Kruckemeyer.
”For example, recently we made avocado dip and had pita bread alongside.”
She also said that although the SRER program does not apply to her workplace, the children’s nutrition must be considered by OSHC, preschools and family day care centres under new national laws.
Since January 2012, Ms Kruckemeyer has been implementing the new National Quality Framework, which sets a benchmark for the quality of Education and Care Services.
A component of this legislation requires Child Education Services to meet certain criteria including safety, health and wellbeing of children, under which nutrition is addressed.
All education and care services must ensure food or beverages provided are ‘nutritious’ and ‘adequate’, or face a penalty of $2000.
Unlicensed child minding services do not provide food to children and are therefore unaffected by state or federal nutrition laws.
Goodlife Gym in North Adelaide operates a child-minding service from the hours of 9am to midday.
Goodlife trainer Scott Mansell said it is the parents’ responsibility to feed their children before or after their gym session.
“Our role is to provide parents with peace-of-mind that their children are being watched while they have their workout,” he said.
The latest ABS data indicates issues normally associated with unhealthy eating, obesity and being overweight, are more common in adults than children.
Paediatric dietician, Natalie VanderHaak, said that while health issues such as obesity and being overweight are more prevalent in older age categories, healthy eating habits are best introduced in the early stages of life when children are malleable and impressionable.
“The ages [from] zero to five is the period in which children are most receptive to their environment,” she said.
“They learn through observation and mimicking behaviour modelled by others, especially adults.”
Ms VanderHaak advises healthy eating habits should be formed earlier rather than later.
“Research shows it is harder to introduce new foods as the child grows older. This is why it is important to provide children with positive healthy eating experiences, for it is this early exposure which develops good eating habits,” she said.
SA Health has indicated they will be considering extending the SRER program beyond LDCC’s in the future.