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Embedding Healthy Eating and Physical Activity into your service

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By Amy Pratten, Lara Hernandez and Paul Gordon – Munch & Move State Team
NSW Office of Preventive Health

National Children’s Week, celebrated each year in October, provides us with a reminder to celebrate the rights of children. This year we focus on the fundamental right of young Australians to good health.

We all want children to have the best start in life, but when it comes to healthy eating and active play this is easier said than done.  It rarely surprises people to hear that children do not eat enough vegetables each day, with only 18% of 2-4 year olds in NSW eating the recommended serves per day. Further, we often assume children are naturally active but the reality is that in NSW less than one in five children get the recommended amount of physical activity each day needed for good health.

Inactivity and unhealthy eating contribute to poor health outcomes including childhood overweight and obesity.The good news is that children who develop healthy habits early are more likely to continue these in the long term.

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) services are ideal places to encourage healthy eating and enjoyment of active play. Everyone can play a role in empowering children and families towards a healthy lifestyle! Munch & Move encourages a ‘whole of service’ approach to healthy eating and physical activity, supporting services to make changes to three key areas – everyday curriculum and policy, role modelling and supporting families.

Everyday curriculum and policy

Planned and unplanned interactions, routines and experiences foster children’s learning and development. Therefore, incorporating healthy habits into everyday activities will make healthy habits the norm. Embedding these expectations and behaviours into service policies and guidelines will also assist in cementing your service’s commitment to children’s health and wellbeing.

So what does this look like in practice?

Embedding healthy eating could include having a service nutrition policy that states food served aligns with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, informing families about your nutrition policies at orientation, or incorporating intentional healthy eating learning experiences throughout the week with the children.

  • Healthy eating learning experiences could include science experiments with food (eg. growing carrots from carrot tops), involving children in cooking activities, discussing healthy food during meal times, linking themes during story time or arts and crafts, starting a herb garden, or even including healthy food in the home corner.
  • Embedding active play in your service could mean ensuring that all educators are skilled in teaching fundamental movement skills, adopting a service physical activity policy that aligns to the recommendations of the 24-hour Movement Guidelines, planning indoor and outdoor active play experiences for all seasons and environments, and giving children the opportunity to be physically active for at least a third of your service’s opening hours across the day.
Children who develop healthy habits early are more likely to continue these in the long term

Role Modelling

Role modelling is a powerful way to inspire change and teach children new behaviours. As an ECEC professional, you are an important role model for healthy eating and physical activity, not just for children but also for their families.

It really is that simple: you will encourage healthy habits by practicing them yourself!

For example: just like wearing a hat for sun-safety, something as small as using a see-through water bottle and using the term ‘water-bottle’ opposed to ‘drink’ bottle role-models the expectation of ‘water as a drink’. It is probably something you are already adopting without realising. This role-modelling extends to participating and showing your enjoyment in active play activities and creating positive meal environments including sitting with the children at meal times.

Supporting Families

Lastly and most importantly, establishing and sustaining meaningful relationships with families is the key to supporting healthy lifestyle changes for children.

Once you have built mutual trust and understanding you can contribute meaningfully to their health by being a source of evidence-based information, resources and support. It is important to set the tone early, communicate your service policies and procedures at orientation and first contact – let families know that you care about them and their child.

Services know their families best and when and how to approach a situation, so to assist you to provide evidence based information to families there are a range of resources available including fact sheets on healthy eating, breastfeeding, fussy eating, sleep, screen time and active play.


 

The Munch & Move program is a free NSW Health initiative that encourages the adoption of health promoting practices in ECEC services. The program messages are derived from evidence based guidelines like the Infant feeding guidelines, the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the 24-hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years while aligning with the National Quality Framework. It was established in 2008 and is being implemented in 88% of ECEC services in NSW.

Munch & Move is a play-based program that focuses on healthy eating, active play, and reduced screen time to children aged birth to 5 years. The program provides professional development to NSW ECEC service staff and ongoing assistance from a Munch & Move Support Officer to embed healthy practices into everyday service practice. The program offers a suite of practical resources including fact sheets for families accessible for free download.

 

Munch & Move is not a one-size-fits-all program and there are countless ways that you can use the information and resources to support children towards life-long health and wellbeing. You can see how the program has been embedded by Wattle Glen Children’s Centre and Kieraview Children’s Centre.

For more information on the Munch & Move program or to access resources visit: www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au/campaigns-programs/about-munch-move.aspx

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