I have been inspired to spend some time researching and writing about nutrition in the daycare setting, since my son spends 50 hours a week in daycare. As he grows, I realize more and more how critical his social environment is becoming, and how proper support and nurturing can help him not only realize his potential and talents, but to also be genuinely happy. As is my paradigm, I believe nutrition is critical to raising an active, clever, and rambunctious child, and am convinced by the scientific literature that good nutrition from as early age as possible (in fact, starting from the fetal stages) can help improve cognitive performance for years to come.
It was fortuitous, then, that I recently received a notice from my day care, encouraging me to use the British Columbia Early Learning Framework (BCELF) as they do in their setting to support my son and his school mates in their early learning processes. The first topic that came to mind was using food as a medium for childhood learning and exploring this further. I came across Food Flair, a curriculum developed by Decoda (LeapBC) that is geared towards day cares, parents, and young children to help them learn about and integrate the various aspects of food as it applies to the early childhood development period. Specifically, these include the feeding relationship using Ellyn Satter‘s approach, the provision of health foods in day care settings, and the role of food in early childhood education, where care providers can enhance learning and development in young children by integrating food play into daily activities.
It is a critical time for caregivers and parents to participate in establishing a healthy nutritional foundation for their children, especially with the mounting rates of childhood obesity. It is also essential to work together as a community to develop and improve standards of nutritional care in day care settings. At present, there is great variation between they type, amount and quality a day care provides, as current regulations are broad and demand only that each day care follow the Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. In our current times, when there are more questions than answers in terms of whether to choose organic fruits and vegetables and dairy, to limit foods high in preservatives as found in many commercially prepared products, and to reduce sodium content of children’s diets, we need more valuable resources and supports on label reading, product comparisons, and specific food choices that will enhance children’s nutrition than the general “how-to” Guide can offer.
A recent Quebec study showed that children in day cares have poorer nutritional outcomes and a greater likelihood of developing childhood obesity as compared to children raised at home. Although this study has many limitations in its design, including its retrospective nature (looking backward instead of following children forward over time) and convenience sampling (the children were not randomly assigned to a type of care, so we cannot conclude that there is a cause and effect relationship between care type and obesity because there could be other factors that were not accounted for), it raises and important message about nutrition as a priority in early childhood.
If we want our children to have a positive relationship with food, we as parents and care providers need to be the catalyst. This means that we will also have to have an in-depth look at how we view food and on which rung of the priority ladder it sits for us. Like all other things, small steps can make a big difference, and food play can be a great starting point for a positive lifelong relationship with food.