Support parents to provide a variety of foods from the basic food groups in snack and lunchboxes each day. Settings should have policies about healthy eating. These policies can encourage parents to give their child fruit, vegetables and other nutritious foods, as well as a clear water bottle labelled with the child’s name. Families and staff or carers can exchange healthy recipes and ideas.

Religous and cultural practices

Everyone working with children and families needs to respect and take into account the values and lifestyles of families. Cultural and religious beliefs must be respected when planning, preparing and discussing food and meals.

Some families and settings will follow religious and cultural beliefs that guide their eating practices, for example those that eat Kosher or Halal food. The nutrition guidelines described above are still relevant in settings that follow particular religious or culturally based eating practices. Discussing with individual families who adhere to particular practices about the best way to offer food for their child will lead to mutually agreed outcomes. This may involve the family providing food, or an agreement about specific food items that can be included or avoided. Using interpreters when families and staff or carers do not speak the same language will allow better communication.

Healthy Eating Guideline 5

Provide water in addition to age-appropriate milk drinks. Infants under the age of six months who are not exclusively breastfed can be offered cooled boiled water in addition to infant formula.

Water is essential for many important bodily functions, including digestion, absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste products. Water accounts for between 50 and 80 per cent of a human’s body weight. Young children in particular are at risk of dehydration.

To stay hydrated, toddlers need to drink around 1 litre of fluid a day, and three- to five-year-olds around 1.2 litres a day.

Babies under six months who are not exclusively breastfed can be offered cooled boiled water. From six to 12 months, cooled boiled water can supplement breastmilk or formula. For children one to five years, water and cow’s milk should be the main drinks offered. Children should have access to drinking water at all times during the day. Where available, offer clean, safe tap water to children – purchasing bottled water is generally not necessary. Water should be available to children at all times, and plain milk should be offered at meal or snack times. It is important to avoid offering too much plain milk, especially just before meals, as children can easily fill up on milk and not be hungry for meals. From around one year, children need around 500ml of milk per day. This includes milk they drink in the setting and at home.
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Sweet drinks are not part of a healthy diet, as they do not provide much nutrition and can fill children up, leading to a decreased appetite for other foods. Young children are more likely to expect sweet drinks if exposed to them early. Sweet drinks may also contribute to tooth decay, and are one of the strongest dietary links to excess weight gain in children. Sweet drinks include soft drinks (including those that are artificially sweetened), flavoured mineral water, sports drinks, flavoured milk, cordial, fruit juice drinks and fruit juice. None of these should be offered to children in the setting.

Water should be provided with each meal and snack, and available for children to drink at any time during the day. Older children can pour their own water or plain milk from a jug on the table at meal and snack times. At other times, each child should have their own accessible, clear water bottle with their name on it. A clear bottle allows staff and carers to easily identify whether the bottle is filled with water or a sweet drink.

It is important for all staff and carers to also have water bottles and to eat nutritious foods in order to model healthy eating for the children.

Healthy Eating Guideline 6

Early childhood settings play a key role in promoting healthy eating habits in yourng children. Children are sensitive to the messages from adults close to them, and practices such as using food for rewards or as threats, intervening to determine the amount of food a child eats or making critical comments about eating, body size or shape may all have negative long-term impacts on eating practices.