Our chefs at Imagine Childcare, have been working with Mandy from Little People Nutrition over the past three months. As chefs and educators of children, we are excited to have this wonderful opportunity as we continue to upskill ourselves and ensure that we are providing the most positive eating environment for our children.
Mandy is a qualified nutritionist and food scientist. She has worked with food for over 20 years in various different realms from manufacturing, nutrition consultation, menu development, quality assurance and control, and food education. Mandy’s passion and appreciation for the food environment shines through in each of her sessions, and we are very fortunate to have partnered with her here at Imagine Childcare.
We had a chat to Mandy to find out more about Little People Nutrition and the importance of excellent nutrition for our little one’s health and wellbeing.
Hi Mandy. Firstly, can you please tell our readers a little bit about your background and Little People Nutrition.
I am a nutritionist and food scientist and have worked with food for over 20 years. I started my career in food manufacturing, processing and product development. When I had my first child, I began to move my work more into nutrition with consulting, menu development, community health and working with children and families.
For the last 10 years I have worked with children, families and educators, nurturing their love and understanding of food and nutrition.
With Little People Nutrition we currently support educators, parents and children in their exploration of food. We do this through incursions into preschools, ELCs and primary schools, using STEAM based concepts; workshops with educators and parents; playgroups with parents and children; as well as bespoke activations on various sites.
We also facilitate education and professional development with educators and parents with menu support and nutrition education.
Through all of this, we create original food education resources to support different age groups of children using story, science, cooking, music and the creative arts to access a broad range of learning areas in the 0-12 years age group.
I have a BSc Food Science and Nutrition, a Grad Dip in Human Nutrition and a Grad Cert in Education.
Can you please tell us about the importance of good nutrition for our children and how we can nurture their relationship and learning around good food choices?
Some of the key points are:
- A diet high in ultra-processed foods increases the risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
- Children begin to form their habits around eating and health from a young age and these are modelled from their eating environments with family, friends and carers.
- The best way to support children to eat well is with consistent, non-pressured exposure to a wide range of foods in meal time and non-meal time occasions.
The key message is relationship and learning. Both of these take time. Our children are learning every day. To sleep in their own beds, to sit at story time, to pour their own drinks, and to eat food. We need to give children the same patience, space and time with the learning and development of their relationship with eating and food.
Learning happens through repetitive exposure, and relationships develop through trust. Both happen best when there is a positive and non-pressured environment.
In regards to ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ choices, these decisions come through modelling. Parental and peer modelling. We need to show children what healthy is. Not tell them. The notions around health are complicated and a decision tree which often a child doesn’t choose. We need to be careful to not attribute emotion or guilt around food, which can often happen, even in well-meaning situations. Remember that a child is not the purchaser of foods in any environment. It is the adult’s responsibility to provide a varied and balanced meal on offer and it is the child’s decision if and what they will eat.
In regards to the training you’ve done with our centres, what are the outcomes and benefits this gives our families, staff, and children?
Over the last three months we have been working with the chefs and a key educator from each centre. This has been an invaluable opportunity to work through the most up to date eating and feeding research as well as creating a library of recipes for the chefs to pull on for inspiration.
We have also worked with each centre and reviewed their menus to ensure they are working alongside the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
All of the information has been centralised for the educators and chefs to be able to pull on and use in their own centres, as well as passing on any pertinent information to the families.
For some children, the only communal meal time might be at their early learning centre. This is why it is invaluable to empower chefs and educators with the best eating and feeding practices so that the children benefit in this environment.
What are some of the key takeouts from the training sessions and the tools you have given our chefs?
One of the most important reminders for chefs and educators is about creating a nurturing eating environment. That the way we serve and display the food, giving children the opportunity to choose what they would like to eat from the meal provided. Our language around food is also incredibly important and powerful.
And how even with the regular menu their are opportunities for the children to play and create their own little food creations. Play and simple interactions are powerful at developing sensory exploration of their food.
What do you love about training and passing on your knowledge to others?
The early learning environment is an extension of family life, even more today. Therefore, educators and chefs play an integral role in the early eating journey of children. It is important and also a huge responsibility, but by expanding our knowledge set and growing as educators with skills, means not only do we as educators benefit, but the of course, the children in our care do too.
My role in this, brings me such joy as I know the flow on affect is phenomenal. Having now worked with 27 centres with the Imagine, the impact potentially could be with over 2700 families, if each centre has 100 families. If only one piece of learning trickles down, the impact will be far greater than we realise.
I love sharing my experience with other professionals who are passionate about the health of children. I always learn from them as well, as I have done through these three months, and I am grateful for this.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Eating is of course our health. It is our fuel. But eating is so much more. It is history, culture. It is community. It is the environment. It is an opportunity to come together and talk about the day. Try and make time for your food. Make time to enjoy cooking it and sharing it with the people you love.
When thinking about what to serve for children, look at always serving a “safe” food for them. So, for instance, if you are serving our Japanese Katsu meal, and you know your child is still learning about mixed dishes, serve the meal with the elements separated out with a safe food on offer. Their “safe” food might be rice. Therefore, you know in this meal, if they do not like the curry, the chicken or the veggies, they will have something to eat with the meal.
On behalf of our Imagine Childcare centres, we would like to thank Mandy for all her invaluable training over the past three months, and also for her wonderful interview and the insights she has shared.
To learn more about Imagine Childcare and the benefits we offer our families, please visit our website here.