Childcare food ban creates stir

Dried fruit and nuts are among the foods that childcare centres are not allowed to provide. Photo...
Dried fruit and nuts are among the foods that childcare centres are not allowed to provide. Photo: Getty
A ban on sausages, hard rice crackers, dried fruit and popcorn in early childcare centres has created a stir, and parents and professionals are split on whether the rules have gone too far.

New food rules for early childcare centres which aim to prevent choking come into force next week and mean centres which provide food are no longer allowed to give children nuts, large seeds, hard or chewy lollies, crisps, hard rice crackers, dried fruit, sausages or saveloys, popcorn and marshmallows.

Small hard food like raw apple or carrot has to be grated if raw or cooked until soft and cut into strips.

Stones and large seeds must be removed from fruit, including watermelon, while grapes, berries and cherry tomatoes must be quartered or finely chopped. Peas must be cooked and squashed with a fork for under-3s. Whole cooked peas are acceptable for older children.

Skin must be removed from chicken, stone fruit, apples, pears and tomatoes and raw salad leaves must be finely chopped.

Meat must be cooked until very tender and minced, shredded or finely chopped.

Services that do not provide food are required to promote the guidance to all parents.

Marama Renata (left) and husband Wi Renata with their son Neihana who was severely brain damaged...
Marama Renata (left) and husband Wi Renata with their son Neihana who was severely brain damaged after choking on apple at daycare. Photo: NZ Herald
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds today told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking he believed the Ministry of Education had gone too far by making the rules compulsory rather than keeping them as guidelines.

"These people are trained teachers. They know how to supervise children and supervise their eating habits.

"We have every sympathy for the incident that happened a couple of years ago now, for the family whose child choked on some food and as a result suffered a brain injury. That's not what we want to see happen but this is an over-reaction. It's wrapping kids in cotton wool and is unnecessary."

He believed centres where parents sent their children with a packed lunch would also feel compelled to be the "food police" and would then have to provide replacement food for anything they deemed unsafe - a cost which would likely be passed on to parents.

"I understand the motivation behind it. They've reacted emotionally to the horrible situation that occurred a couple of years ago but we need to be more pragmatic than this," Reynolds said.

"We need to have a look and say actually, the guidelines are pretty good as guidelines. Why don't we just make sure services are taking note of those, are doing something to make sure their supervision is appropriate and that where appropriate foods are required, that's what's being served.

"But you don't want to turn around and say to a hard working family that struggles to put food on the table as it is, 'I'm sorry but 90 per cent of the food that you've provided to your child for the childcare centre today is going to be turfed'."

Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said in December the amendments were designed to keep young children safe by minimising the risk of choking.

"Prior to this change, early learning services were encouraged to follow the Ministry of Health guidance on the provision of food. Now it will be compulsory," she said. "Food choices must also meet the nutritional and developmental needs of each child."

Neihana Renata suffered hypoxic brain injury after choking on an apple at Little Lights Kindy in...
Neihana Renata suffered hypoxic brain injury after choking on an apple at Little Lights Kindy in Rotorua in 2016. Photo/Supplied
Children will also be required to be seated and supervised while eating and more staff will be required to have a current first aid qualification.

The New Zealand Herald has requested further comment from the ministry.

However, many parents are more than happy with the change.

Marama Renata told the Rotorua Daily Post they were "absolutely thrilled with the news".

The Renata family have been campaigning for the changes since their son Neihana choked on a piece of apple at daycare in 2016 and left the then 22-month-old with brain damage. He now cannot walk or talk.

The incident meant she now kept her children much closer.

"I'm not so trusting that they will be safe. I will be reluctant for the baby to go anywhere without me until she's much older," she said. "Sometimes I reflect on how difficult life can be for Neihana, and when he misses out on moving and playing - that does make me sad."

Other parents the Herald spoke to were also comfortable with the changes.

"When we are trusting our kids to be cared for by others and it's never one on one supervision, then I'd rather they were extra cautious. The kids have plenty of opportunity to branch out more with their foods at dinner and weekends when they are with us and being watched one on one," one parent said.

Another parent said that, while children did need to learn to eat those sorts of food, it was best done at home, rather than daycare, where parents could supervise.

Comments

Given the reported adverse events that have taken place in childcare settings, it ill behooves the man in charge to talk of safety measures as 'wrapping kids in cotton wool'. Your employers are the parents. Remember it.

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