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Early Learning Toolkit trial, Bendigo Health

That Sugar Movement recently added to its education collection an Early Learning Toolkit. This is something we are extremely proud of as the early intervention, in the formation of children’s eating habits and nutritional literacy is more important than ever.

Many children are consuming too much added sugar – not only from discretionary foods but from foods that are commonly perceived (and marketed) as healthy. The impacts of high sugar consumption have been well-documented, increasing the risk of chronic diseases – such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease – and can affect children’s learning and development. Sugar also is a major contributor to poor oral health, which can, in turn, impact overall bodily health. Dental caries (tooth decay) is the most prevalent, yet preventable, childhood disease.

In Australia, around 77% of children attend early learning education. Some children spend the majority of their waking day in care, receiving up to 80% of their daily nutrition requirements from the centre. This makes early learning centres an ideal environment in which to influence the eating habits of our youngest generations.

About our Early Learning Toolkit

Constructed around key messages from That Sugar Film, the toolkit is designed to inform and engage educators, kitchen staff, children and parents. It aims to increase sugar awareness, to improve the nutrition and health of children, and to establish a firm foundation for healthy food choices.

The toolkit is a collaboration between our nutritionists and early learning experts. The guide assists educators in delivering three key topics in children’s nutrition: Fruit & vegetables, Hydration, and Breakfast. Each module is complete with a learning activity that can be linked to Early Years Learning Framework Outcomes. Also included in the kit is That Sugar Film DVD; tools and planning templates to help evaluate food and nutrition in the centre; a collection of kid-friendly recipes; and additional online digital resources. You can find more details about the toolkit here.

Bendigo Health trial

In June, That Sugar Movement was fortunate enough to team up team up with Bendigo Health who assisted in running a trial across early learning centres of the Greater Bendigo region. A reason for this selection is their 2017-2021 Health and Wellbeing plan focuses on obesity and sugar intake prevention as a priority.

Centres that chose to take part were asked to implement as many components of the toolkit that they were able to, including engaging the kitchen staff, parents, educators and children in various activities, in return for feedback.

Nineteen centres received the toolkit, with a total of over 2,500 children attending these centres. Just over half of the centres provided a full food service, the remainder either provided a small meal/snack, or the parents were required to provide all food for the child while in care.

We managed to get great insights around both pre- and post-program practices, attitudes and behaviours relating to food and nutrition, as well as their feedback on the toolkit itself.

Key findings

Nutrition education is essential when it comes to providing nutritious food and beverages to children (pre-program survey, n=19)

  • 33% of centres reported they were extremely confident that they were providing nutritious food, the rest were either somewhat or quite confident.
  • 84% of centres deliver some kind of healthy food or nutrition initiatives to the children, the Smiles for Miles program being most common.
  • Only 13% of centres felt parents are well supported to make informed choices about their children’s nutrition, suggesting parents may be overwhelmed by the volume and validity of the information available to them.

Ongoing evaluation of food menus ensures food on offer is of optimal nutrition (menu audit and goal setting, n=6)

  • Breakfasts- overall were nutritious, one centre is looking to replace Sultana Bran (high in sugar) with a healthier alternative.  
  • Fruit and vegetables- offering was plentiful, one centre lacked fruit at either breakfast or morning tea, another centre is looking to include more vegetables on the menu.
  • Quality protein- three centres stated they want to include a plant protein (such as legumes) on their weekly lunch menu, either as a meat replacement or where a quality protein was lacking.
  • Added sugars- two centres identified the yoghurt, custard and/or jelly on their menu was high in added sugar. As a result, their goals were to find alternatives without added sugar.
  • Beverages- positively, all centres reported only water and milk is offered to children throughout the day.

That Sugar Movement Early Learning Toolkit as a valuable tool for engaging staff, children and families (post-program survey n= 13)

  • Sugar awareness- 100% reported kitchen staff and educators were more aware of sugar following the program.
  • Implementation- overall the centres found the toolkit easy to implement.
    • Ease of implementation: comments included that toolkit was well presented and easy to follow. Another said that they are able to use it to further implement healthy eating options at the preschool.
    • Challenges faced: a couple of centres mentioned that due to time constraints of the trial, it meant they could not explore or implement it completely. Another noted that the toolkit design is more suited to childcare where food is provided.
  • Motivated change- 12 centres reported the toolkit has motivated positive change at their centre, the top three being:
  1. engaging with parents more around food and nutrition
  2. sourcing healthier food items
  3. offering more food and nutrition education.
  • Parent feedback- was either neutral (62%) or positive (38%), noting that some centres had little engagement with the families or did not engage the families at all throughout the program.  

What next?

That Sugar Movement endeavours to produce and provide current, evidence-based and accessible nutrition education. The Early Learning Toolkit will be actively promoted through That Sugar Movement marketing and advertising activity, with online purchases of the toolkit and recipe booklets now enabled through its website http://thatsugarmovement.com. We also look forward to following up interest from community organisations as well as directly approaching federal, state and local government including Health and Education Ministers.

Final comments

That Sugar Movement would like to thank Bendigo Health and all of the participating early learning centres for taking part in the trial. We believe that by learning and teaching the key messages, and through the practical application of the toolkit, it can successfully achieve its aims of increasing sugar awareness, improving the nutrition and health of children, and establishing a firm foundation for healthy food choices.

“It was a positive experience using the kit…we have breakfast day coming up and due to our new awareness have made significant changes to the types of breakfast foods that we will be offering.” -Kangaroo Flat Kindergarten

“The program has been wonderful for supporting and extending our nutrition program. The emphasis on sugar provided valuable information for our families and educators.” -Jenny’s ELC, Epsom

“It was something that we try to implement every day already…and just reinforced the learning again. We have parents that are very passionate about this topic. This supported them.” -Nurture One, Napier Street Children’s Centre

“Families loved the recipe books.” -YMCA ELC, Lightning Reef

By Jennifer Peters, ANutr
Public Health Nutritionist

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