How Child Care Can Make Your Child A Better Eater

  • Toddlers
    Parents Only

By: Alex Harmon, ellaslist 

Fussy little eaters... chances are you have one in your house! Maybe they weren't always fussy, and maybe they only come in and out of fussiness occasionally, but as a parent you know how frustrating it can be. Especially if you are trying to make healthy choices and you don't have the time to be a short-order chef.

Then you send your little one to daycare and you find that your little Mr/Miss Fussy eats everything! This is because daycare is a great breeding ground for healthy eating - kids are all served the same thing in a relaxed and communal setting and they want to eat what their friends are eating. Eureka, you say! There are only two problems here. Not all daycare centres serve healthy food - and secondly, what do you do when your little angel gets home? 

We spoke to dietition Kathryn Hawkins who created the menu for Little Learning School about the benefits of a healthy diet in toddlers, how to set up healthy environment at home and what you should be expecting from your little one's child care centre... 

Why is it so important to set up healthy eating habits in children at such a young age? 

Children don’t remember many specific things that happen to them as a toddler, but they remember how they felt, and this has a huge impact on the future enjoyment of certain activities. For example, if meal times are always enjoyable and the child is made to feel happy and secure, with guidelines around behavior and mealtime rituals, chances are they will continue to enjoy and respect meal times as they grow older.

This is also a great age to introduce new foods, flavors and textures to children’s diets. They are naturally curious, and day care is a great place for them to look to their peers for confidence. We often see children become much more adventurous with new foods at childcare or preschool when surrounded by friends eating the same food!

Give us an example of daily menu you have created at Little Learning School?

I have tried to make sure each day contains variety. An example of a typical day would be a breakfast of porridge or toast fingers, and a dairy based morning tea such as a fruit smoothie or poached fruit and yogurt. Lunch is based on 2 serves of vegetables, a lean source of protein, and a low GI Carbohydrate. Lunch meals are hot meals and include things like spaghetti bolognaise, lentil casserole and san choy bow. Afternoon snacks consist of things like dried fruit, cheese, vegetable sticks, crackers and hummus for lasting energy. I have based the menu on whole foods, and used the recommended serves per day of each food group to ensure that approximately 80% of the child’s nutritional needs are met whilst in care.


What are your tips for tackling fussy little eaters?

Try to be consistent. If you have a fussy eater at home it is important to set some rules around meal times.

My tips:

  • Try and eat together as a family, at the table, as soon as you can.

  • Turn off the TV and other distractions.

  • Offer something you know they like on the plate as well as a new or challenging food.

  • Stay calm and let the child decide how much they want to eat. Remember parents provide the food, at an appropriate time, and the child decides how much is eaten: "Parents provide, children decide"

  • Try to avoid an endless stream of snacks and walking around the house / park eating. Set meal and snack times and then enforce that they are eaten at the table or in a chair. 

  • Avoid bribing with dessert, begging them to eat and offering them alternatives to the meal...

Do you think kids should be eating birthday cake at daycare?

I think birthdays should be celebrated to make children feel special on their special day… But I don’t think this has to include a cake! I think the cake should be something for the family to have at home, and is just not necessary at daycare. A really lovely thing to do is to get all the children to make a big card for the birthday girl/boy and they can put their handprints on it, or each draw a small picture. You could let the birthday child select their favourite music to play, or their favourite book or game, and have everyone sing Happy Birthday to them. There are other ways to make children feel special. If you did want to use food to mark the occasion, you could have a cooking experience and all make something like pikelets with jam, or fruit buns for morning tea as a special birthday treat.


What are your suggestions for fun but healthy celebratory food? 

I think things like banana muffins, pikelets, sushi, fruit skewers which can be drizzled with a small amount of chocolate, milo milk, popcorn and homemade sausage rolls.


Is there a place for discretionary foods in daycare? 

As a dietitian and as a mother of a child in daycare, I actually don’t think there is a regular place for discretionary foods. I like to think these ‘sometimes’ foods are kept for weekends with family or special occasions like Christmas gatherings, daycare graduation and Easter hunts. I think at this age, it is unnecessary to have regular discretionary foods, and these really need to be allowed only at the discretion of the parents or caregivers.

What are some of the benefits of a healthy diet on a child's growth and development that parents may not be aware of? 

There is a huge social aspect to meal times that needs to be nurtured and encouraged right from the start. It is not just a matter of the child eating the right amount of food, it is important that the whole experience is favourable. Children that are exposed to a lot of salt and sugar and processed foods early in life, develop a strong taste for these foods and they can find more plain food bland, setting up poor habits around taste. Variety in a child’s diet is important, but don’t get to concerned if your child only has a small repertoire of foods they regularly eat with gusto… the trick is to continue to offer the variety and continue to lead by example and eat different foods in front of them. 


Little Learning School offers no-obligation tours of all their centres. Simply call 1300 255 555 to arrange a time at your local centre.