Chapter 2 – Take action: Healthy eating patterns
Due to a scientifically established relationship between diet and a number of chronic diseases WHO urges a focus on prevention, starting from before birth, by improving nutritional status during all life-course stages. Healthy eating directly has an influence upon a healthy growth and development and it contributes to quality of life. Establishing healthy eating patterns at an early age provides a critical foundation for good eating habits in elderly people with health, social and financial benefits to people, families and society.
More than 90% of children in Europe attend kindergartens and therefore these settings are a critical part of the social environment that shapes eating behaviour and can play a large role in ensuring that health-enhancing eating behaviour is learned, practised and supported.
Different cultural and social factors influence the food choice and consumption. Changing established eating habits is difficult: it is essential to start teaching children about healthy eating patterns and related food selection, preparation and cooking skills in order to sustain healthy eating.
Preschools and schools should be responsible for children’s learning regarding food and nutrition. The Learning programs should provide opportunities for developing practical food skills related to growing, selection, storage, preparation, cooking and serving food.
Europe is a multicultural society in which there is a wide variety of foods and eating patterns that reflect diverse cultural, ethnic and spiritual groups. Healthy eating programs should reflect cultural and spiritual perspectives within their communities and provide opportunities for children to develop and enhance their appreciation of this diversity.
The learning environment includes establishment of regular eating times (breakfast, morning fruit break, lunch, afternoon snack, evening meal) and a safe and comfortable place where food can be consumed. The opportunity for enjoyable social and cultural interactions while eating in a pleasant relaxing environment encourages children to develop sound eating habits and reduces the likelihood of skipping meals.
Challenges to Healthy Eating at Child Care:
- Menu variety
- Mealtime environment
- Role modeling
- Fundraisers/ Special events
- Unsupportive posters, books, displays
Solutions for Healthy Eating at Child Care:
- Develop or encourage a healthy eating policy
- Supportive posters, books and visual displays
- Include healthy nutrition messages as part of program planning and activities
- Follow the division of responsibility (feeding relationship- you decide what and when, the child decides how much)