By CELA on 21 Mar, 2020

The Prime Minister has stated that when people stop stockpiling, the supply chain will return to normal. In the meantime, early education and care services across the nation are without essential supplies.

Many services have run out of hand sanitiser and vital cleaning products, while others have been unable to get enough formula, nappies, or food to prepare meals for the children in their care.

CELA has requested that ECEC services are included on priority supply lists. The Department assures CELA that they are actively pursuing this.

In this week’s Amplify! We find out how some services are managing with low stock availability and rationing, and provide tips on how to provide nutritious meals when regular staples are not available.

It’s enough to make me put my head in my hands and make me feel defeated.

Through member calls and posts on social media over the past week, we have heard from many educators who are incredibly concerned about how they will keep things going with the current rations in place and lack of supplies. The major supermarkets will only allow ECEC professionals to buy the same two packs of pasta as every other shopper, and click and collect has been suspended.

Empty shelves and torn up meal plans

After having their regular weekly delivery cancelled, members from the leadership team of Only About Children’s (OAC) long daycare campus in Sydney’s Alexandria spent hours travelling across Sydney to help source supplies. Many of the lunches on OAC’s menu plan require up to 6 packets of pasta or 2kg of rice per meal. The limit has required them to complete three separate shopping trips to purchase enough pasta for one meal and to completely review all meal plans.

Alannah Berridge, OAC Campus Director, says it has had effects across their entire meal preparation schedule and has been particularly challenging in relation to catering for children with dietary requirements.

“As a result of staple items being unavailable, consumers have also turned to gluten-free and dairy-free options as a substitute,” shares Alannah. “This has impacted on our ability to provide highly nutritious meals for children with allergies or dietary requirements. As you can imagine, this adds an extra element of pressure to myself and the team as we are often using our personal time to source products to ensure we are available at the campus during business hours to provide quality care for children and families.”

Uniforms, cards and pleas to store managers may be a work-around

Some educators have had success getting the goods they need by wearing their ECEC uniform and showing a work badge or card at the check out. If the operator at the till doesn’t have the ability to put additional food through, it may be worth calling for a manager to explain the situation.

“They have to put (extra food) through as a different item number,” explained Emma R in a Facebook comment. “I had a nice manager who suggested it. I went back again and got them to do the same thing today. Because the register won’t allow it to process more than two packs or pasta or rice per transaction they add up the total and put it through as a special code.”

Sourcing new suppliers

It may be time to review where you are purchasing your stock from and get a little more creative. Some services have had success in sourcing new suppliers such as smaller, local greengrocers and butchers who may also deliver.

Larger wholesale suppliers you may consider include:

Or try typing ‘wholesale foodservice suppliers’ into Google for local options.

(please note that CELA does not endorse any of these providers and have not used them – we can’t guarantee that they will deliver what you need).

If your service is small, it could be an idea to try grouping together with other local, small early education services to increase your buying power for wholesale purchases, or to take turns in making trips to stores that are further afield.

Asking parents and the wider community

Commentators are saying that this is a once in a hundred-year situation, and these types of situations require communities to come together in an extraordinary way.

While it’s not ideal, early education services that usually provide meals may need to ask families and carers to supply meals for their children for a while. Those who can will, potentially leaving the small supplies you have for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Check-in with your community,” says Alannah, director at OAC Alexandria. “Our families have been amazing in helping us source items and have also provided ideas on alternatives.

Services could also consider reaching out to local community groups such as Lions clubs, sporting clubs, Country Women’s Associations, or local community Facebook pages looking for donations.

Creative meal planning ideas

Alannah has been working with nutritionists at The Biting Truth to gain an understanding of suitable alternatives for staple items. Using this information she has been assisting the campus cook to plan an alternative menu each day, depending on the items they have been able to source.

While staples like rice and pasta are scarce, Alannah has been advised that there are many delicious and nutritious wholegrain substitutes which include:

  • Potato and sweet potato
  • Wholegrain bread and wholegrain wraps
  • Wholemeal couscous
  • Pearl barley and barley
  • Quinoa
  • Pulse pasta (made from chickpeas and legumes)
  • Corn and peas can also be used, which are relatively high carb foods.

“Substitute wheat flour for chickpea flour, buckwheat flour or coconut flour,” shares Alannah. “Utilise fresh foods where possible. While staples are running low, fresh food supplies are available at most supermarkets and can make great alternatives to your usual carbohydrates.

If you’re concerned about the lack of meat, especially mince available at the supermarket, The Biting Truth recommends the following protein options:

  • Eggs
  • Legumes (kidney beans, lentils etc)
  • Hummus
  • Falafels
  • Yoghurt
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Yoghurt
  • Nut butters
  • Cheese
  • Dried legumes

Anna Debenhem, nutritionist and co-founder of The Biting Truth, suggests the following meal options as viable substitutes for use within early education services:

  • Healthy homemade pizzas using wholegrain wraps as a pizza base topped with tomato paste, cheese, tomato, spinach and olives
  • Jacket potato boats with toppings such as tuna and corn or cheese and tomato
  • Bean burritos
  • Crumbed chicken or fish with sweet potato chips and salad
  • Minestrone soup with wholegrain bread

While providers may be able to substitute items for the short term, it may not a viable long-term solution in terms of children’s nutritional needs.

It is a difficult and frightening time for our community and I understand the response that we are seeing,” says Alannah. “However, the extreme levels of purchasing will impact greatly on our ability to continue to provide high-quality care for children. At this stage, the Government have advised that remaining in child care is the best place for young children to be, however greater support from the government and businesses is vital to ensure we can continue to operate efficiently.

CELA is waiting to hear back from the government about our request to put early education services on supermarket priority customer lists. We will update you via member news and social media once we are informed.

Other helpful links:

These Munch & Move recipes can be found in Caring For Children: Birth to 5 years (Food, Nutrition and Learning Experiences):

  • Lentil Soup pg. 131
  • Tasty Scrambled Egg pg. 143
  • Vegetable Slice pg. 151
  • Zucchini slide pg. 152
  • Wholemeal Cheese Scones pg. 160

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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