Studies reveal that young children in early childhood centres are being fed food that does not match nutritional guidelines, hungry throughout the day, and fed food that Educators themselves have brought from home.
A significant study on nutrition and food quality in Australia's early children education and care sector, headed by Professor Thorpe and her colleague Bonnie Searle, according to their research, there appear to be significant gaps in the type and quantity of food offered by the industry, particularly in underprivileged areas.
In early learning centres, young children get their meals from two sources. While some centres supply the food, others depend on parents bringing it in with their children. In a Queensland study including over 1,600 centres, Professor Thorpe and her colleagues discovered that childcare facilities in underprivileged or isolated areas had lower rates of providing food.
"An alternate way of putting this," Professor Thorpe said, "is parents are required to bring food from home, and these are the families least able to provide food and many are living in circumstances of food insecurity."
In a recently published study, Dr. Searle evaluated the interactions, mealtime environment, and food quality in urban childcare centres that supplied food vs those that didn't, and found that lack of food was a serious problem.
"What concerned us most was that there wasn't enough food, although across the board the quality of food was poor and did not align with Australian dietary guidelines," Dr Searle said.
"And the situation was worse when parents had to send in food.
"In the centres where the parents were experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage, the children were arriving hungry and the educators were asking them not to eat their food all at once so it'd last the whole day.
"And we witnessed educators giving their food to children."
The study also discovered that toddlers' and preschoolers' behaviour was impacted throughout the day by a lack of nourishment.
"The quality of emotional interactions was lower and conflict increased across the day," stated Dr. Searle.
According to Professor Thorpe, the emotional environment of early care and education is crucial.
Professor Thorpe claims that a major issue is that the criteria used to evaluate the quality of early childhood education and care services place more emphasis on nutrition education, allergy prevention, and food preparation hygiene than they do on what and how much the children eat.
Furthermore, she stated that quality inspectors evaluating a centre cannot always depend on the information provided to them.
"We go into centres and observe and sometimes we will see menus that look very healthy, but that is not what the children eat."
The market study on the provision of childcare services was just released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
A draft report on the Productivity Commission's investigation into childcare is available.
However, according to Professor Thorpe, neither study specifically addressed problems related to food and nutrition.
According to Professor Thorpe, there are two options.
The first is to give specific food subsidies to institutions located in underprivileged areas.
"Australia has an excellent database that can show which services are available. We should at least help those who are most in need if we are unable to help everyone, the speaker stated.
She proposed a second solution: making sure the national quality framework and quality standards for early childhood education and care "look at the right things" to determine how these services are assessed.
According to a spokesman for Anne Aly, the minister of early childhood education, there are standards under the national quality framework to guarantee that the food a service provides is both sufficient in quantity and nutritious.
"Policies and procedures for nutrition and dietary requirements must be in place for services that decide to serve meals. State and territory regulatory agencies keep an eye on this," the statement read.
"The government will consider the final recommendations of the Productivity Commission inquiry and the future of the early learning system as we chart a course to universal early childhood education and care."
Young Kids Failing To Get Adequate Nutrition In Early Childcare Centres, Research Suggests, ABC News Australia