ABC Whangarei South is an education and care service run by BestStart. It is licensed for up to 40 children aged two years or older. Nearly two-thirds of the children that attend ABC Whangarei South are Māori.
Teachers and leaders at ABC Whangarei South began looking at food, nutrition and physical activity in their service after discussing aspects of the Vulnerable Children Act. They thought one area they could work on to make a difference for their children and whānau was improving their physical and mental health, and cultural and emotional wellbeing – more mokopuna/children are healthy.1
Teachers and leaders said we can help to make positive changes where needed, we can recognise health needs and refer to the correct services.
One teacher took responsibility for documenting what the children were bringing to eat while at the service. The teacher chose a sample of children to monitor, making sure to include children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and gender. The teacher also noted each child’s behaviour patterns during this time. For example, one child usually took a long time to eat their food, was energetic in the mornings, and slept a lot in the afternoons.
After observing what kinds of food the children were being given for their lunches, the teachers discussed what they could do. They said we decided that the unhealthy food was a problem throughout the centre regardless of socioeconomic background, gender, age or ethnicity. As a team, they decided that they would approach the problem by approaching all parents and not singling out any families.
The leader sent a letter to all whānau, explaining what they wanted to do and why. The letter explained teachers had noticed that when children do not have healthy eating habits their behaviour is affected and they cannot concentrate. They gave parents ideas for healthy foods to pack for their children, links to recipes and information, and created an ‘inspiration folder’ that had healthy meal ideas, guidelines for portion sizes and tips for encouraging children to eat healthily.
Some of the parents and whānau started discussing their children’s eating habits with the teachers, which gave the teachers a chance to talk about the effects different foods had on children’s behaviour.
A month after sending the letter, and several conversations with parents, teachers noticed that children’s lunches contained more healthy foods, and less of the unhealthy foods they had been concerned about. Teachers observed that eating a more nutritious lunch had many positive impacts on children. For example, teachers had been concerned about one child, and noticed improvements in their behaviour once they had healthier foods. Teachers commented on children’s behaviour:
Teachers have noticed a big improvement in the children’s diets in a short time. They continue to follow up with information and reminders to parents as needed.