Your kid spends most of his day at a childcare centre. How does it make sure that he’s eating a balanced diet?
Learning is serious business for preschools. But at some centres, so is nutrition. Chiltern House’s menu, for example, offers a balance of Asian, Western and vegetarian dishes, with no beef or pork, and plenty of fruit and vegetables. “We try very hard to ensure that the menu has healthy and tasty food. It also invites children to eat a wide variety of flavours and textures,” says Fiona Walker, CEO and principal of schools of Julia Gabriel Education, which runs Chiltern House. Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse @ The Grandstand worked with a food consultant before it started operations last February. “We focus on a well-balanced diet and do not include processed meat in our meals. We serve fresh vegetables and fruits daily. Groceries are bought and delivered daily, too,” says Alicia Tan, head of its marketing and corporate communications. These three preschools, along with the 74 My First Skool centres, have adopted the Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Eating in Child Care Centres Programme.
Ruth Chia, curriculum and programme manager at NTUC First Campus, which manages My First Skool, explains that this means the centres need to abide by certain guidelines, which include the number of daily servings provided, and limiting the intake of processed and fried foods, among others. To ensure that pupils don’t feel deprived, teachers at Cambridge Child Development Centre take note of the kids’ preferences and include some of their favourite healthy ingredients in the menu, says Natalia Tan, its managing director.
More than Food
The importance of a well-balanced diet and good eating habits form part of Kiddiwinkie’s thematic activities, which also include the choice of books to read, says Alicia. “We do this for both our English and Chinese lessons, so that the children learn the terms and vocabulary in Chinese, too.” To make it more fun, Kiddiwinkie offers a unique programme – the International Cuisine and Culture Day – where kids are introduced to a new country, its culture and its cuisine every other month. Cambridge and My First Skool also include topics on nutrition and health for its pupils, while at Chiltern House, kids are encouraged to take care of their bodies, which is best done through healthy eating and exercise. To encourage pupils to try new dishes, Kiddiwinkie serves smaller portions and food that’s cut into more manageable pieces. “Our teachers also eat together with the children to motivate them,” Alicia says. It even updates parents on the menu, so they can serve the same food at home. Fiona notes that children often become less picky when they see their friends tucking in: “Parents are always amazed by what their kids eat at school, but still refuse to eat at home.” Junior may need repeated exposure to a food before he takes the first bite, says Ruth. “Gradually, the child will start eating with positive reinforcement and encouragement from the teachers. We’ll also provide parents articles with tips, and how to encourage their children to eat a balanced diet at home.”
Say No to Sweets
Sugary snacks are not allowed at these preschools. Instead, fruit is the snack of choice. Cambridge discourages parents from sending kids to school with candy, and only those with special diets can bring their own food to school,
shares Natalia. Sweet treats are reserved for special occasions, says Fiona. “Parents can bring birthday cakes to celebrate at school with the class, but we do restrict food that comes in on party days to make sure we limit sugar, artificial colouring and flavouring,” she adds. The school allows goodie bags, which are given at the end of class. Ruth says My First Skool encourages parents to order non-creamy cakes and goodie bags that have stickers or stationery rather than chocolates. Alicia says the school requests parents to bring a no-nut cake and healthy snacks
By Anita Yee, Young Parents PreSchool Guide, 2014