Factors influencing food service provision decisions in centre-based early childhood education and care services: Cooks' perspective

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Issue addressed: Considerable public effort has been directed at centre-based childcare as an early childhood education and care (ECEC) setting to promote healthy food-related behaviours in young children. However, in the real-world setting, best practice, evidence-based guidelines are not always well-translated into usual, day-to-day routines. This study aims to understand what factors influence the centre-based childcare cooks' food and nutrition decisions for children aged 2-5 years. Methods: Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with cooks in centre-based childcare using purposeful maximum variation sampling and data analysed thematically. Results: Fourteen cooks were interviewed from 14 services across South Australia. Central to providing a healthy food environment was expert-led knowledge and training gained through the workplace over several years and the embodiment of the service's healthy food and nutrition policy, evidenced through menu planning to maintain a focus on healthy eating. Threatening these positive, routine practices and decisions were pressures to modify menus in response to increasing food allergies and changing cultural and family preferences, in the absence of ongoing relevant training and expertise at the system-level. Conclusions: Children in ECEC benefit from cooks' commitment to providing nutritious foods; however, the requirements to extend their role to respond to increasing demands without relevant system-level support and training puts the children at risk of not being exposed to health-promoting menus and possible errors in providing dietary modifications. ECEC cooks urgently need access to system-level support and training. So What?: Understanding and addressing the barriers experienced by cooks and the complexity of factors that inform their food-related decision-making will sustain the implementation of effective, healthy eating guidelines and nutrition practices in ECEC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Promotion Journal of Australia
Issue number1
Early online date14 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Childcare
  • Ecological model theory
  • Healthy diet
  • Menu planning
  • Nutrition policy


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