Introduction to policy

Policies are an important aspect of an early childhood setting, and can be used to support healthy eating and physical activity. A policy document provides clear, consistent information for all staff and carers working with children, as well as for parents and families. Thorough policies can demonstrate a commitment to healthy eating and physical activity, and ensure a high quality of practice.

Developing policy: A ‘how to’ guide

Whether there is an existing policy already in place or one is yet to be developedin a setting, there are some important things to consider.

Policy documents should be functional – outlining strategies for all staff and carers to follow. Also, a policy document should be readily available to everyone working in the setting, and should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

A policy document should outline the purpose of the policy, and how it has been developed. Explanations of how policy goals will be achieved should also be included. More specific policy statements should address key areas of practice in a setting. See the outlined sample policies for ideas.

Steps for developing and implementing a policy

1. Form a working group that includes key members from the setting. This group will work together to generate or review the policy document.

2. Identify key stakeholders. Key stakeholders are likely to include parents, families, staff and carers, directors, managers, coordinators and early childhood or healthcare professionals. Invite them to join the working group. Children are also important stakeholders, so it is good to try and include their views, but they cannot officially take part in a working group.

3. Identify any current day-to-day practices that are relevant to food and nutrition and physical activity. Summarise these, as they may form the basis for the policy.

4. Prepare a draft policy document. Seek the advice and assistance of experts if possible, as they may be helpful with this. Include any requirements as prescribed by state or national licensing and accreditation.

5. Circulate the draft policy to all key stakeholders and invite feedback. It is important that staff and families have the opportunity to comment on the policy before it is put in place.

6. Implement the new policy. Make any changes that have been set out in the policy document statements. Staff may need to be trained in certains areas. Display the policy, so that current parenhts and carers can view it. Consider ways to share the policy information with new families.

7. Monitor and review the policy. It is a good idea to monitor any changes that have been made in the setting due to the new policy. Review the policy every 12 months to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant.
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A poster-size summary of the policy can be displayed, so that parents see that healthy eating and physical ctivity are important to the setting. Alternatively, the policy can be spread over several poster, with different points from the policy displayed over time.

Sample guidelines for implementing a healthy eating policy

In many cases, state and federal licensing and accreditation requires the development and implementation of food and nutrition policies.

Use the ideas below as a guide for healthy eating and physical activity policies. Start with the purpose of the policy, and then describe how the document has been developed. Include the policy goals in the main body. Describe the strategies that will be used to achieve the policy goals in an appendix to the main document. Add any policy points and further details as relevant to the setting.

Purpose and development of the policy

Include the following at the beginning of the policy document:
  • Name of early childhood setting.
  • Date the policy was developed and reviewed.
  • Role that the policy plays in meeting the needs of children attending the setting.
  • People involved in developing the policy.
  • How and when the policy will be reviewed.
  • Where the policy will be displayed.
  • How the policy information will be shared with parents.

Healthy eating policy goals

  • To ensure the nutritional needs of all children are met, either through food provided by the setting or food brought from home. This includesbreastmilk and infant formula as appropriate.
  • To provide relaxed, social mealtime environments where children can try new foods and enjoy eating.
  • To ensure, in all possible ways, that food is safe for children to eat.

Physical activity policy goals

  • To prioritise safe active play for children. To ensure staff, carers, children and families are aware of the benefits of daily active play.
  • To reduce sedentary behaviour and screen-time, and increase active play opportunities within the setting.
  • To ensure staff, parents and carers understand the importance of reducing sedentary behaviour and screen-time.

Strategies for achieving policy goals

The following strategy ideas can be included when developing a setting’s policy. For each strategy, describe what happens in the setting and then indicate how the setting’s practice supports the policy goal. Of course, there will be other practices in the setting that will be added to this list.

Healthy eating

Goal: To ensure the nutritional needs of all children are met, either through food provided by the setting or food brought from home. This includes breastmilk and infant formula as appropriate.

Strategy examples:
  • Breastfeeding is encouraged and supported by the setting.
  • A quiet, private space is available where mothers can breastfeed and/or express breastmilk (with a power point for an electric pump if needed).
  • Infant formula is prepared according to the manufacturer’s directions and offered in a clean bottle or cup.
  • Choking risks for infants are minimised – children are always supervised when eating, infants are never left unattended with a bottle and only food of the appropriate texture is offered.
  • Food provided by the setting is nutritious, and includes a variety of foods from each of the food groups.
  • It is encouraged that food brought from home is nutritious, and includes a variety of foods from each of the food groups.
  • Families will be provided with information and ideas on how to provide nutritious foods for their children, while they are in care.
  • Water is offered as the main drink and available at all times.
Goal: To provide relaxed, social mealtime environments where children can try new foods and enjoy eating.
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Strategy examples:
  • Meals and snacks are offered at regular and predictable intervals.
  • Food offered is of a suitable serving size, and children are given control over how much they eat.
  • Menu is displayed, so that parents know what their children are offered to eat each day.
  • Staff take time to discuss mealtimes with parents. Each day, parents are informed about how much and what types of food their child has eaten.
  • Special occasions are recognised and celebrated with limited use of sometimes foods, and with no specific focus on food. Alternatives to using food to celebrate are considered.
Goal: To ensure, in all possible ways, that food is safe for children to eat.

Strategy examples:
  • Individual allergy management plans are developed for children with diagnosed allergies.
  • Choking risks are minimised, through the provision of appropriate foods. Food is prepared safely and hygienically, to minimise the risk of contamination.
  • Hand-washing practices are observed at all times.
  • Food-handling staff attend relevant training courses, as required.
Goal: To prioritise safe active play for children. To ensure staff, carers, children and families are aware of the benefits of daily active play.

Strategy examples:
  • Equipment and play spaces are varied, safe, creative and well-maintained.
  • A caring and positive play environment is planned, with involvement from children, families and carers.
  • Staff, carers and parents act as role models for positive physical activity behaviours.
  • Active play and movement opportunities, including outdoor play, are frequent throughout the day.
  • The active play program is appropriate for children of all abilities.
  • Parents are provided with information on how to encourage and provide active play opportunities for their children.
Goal: To reduce sedentary behaviour and screen-time, and increase active play opportunities within the setting. To ensure staff, parents and carers understand the importance of reducing sedentary time.

Strategy examples:
  • Play areas offer a variety of play spaces and equipment.
  • Staff and carers act as role models for appropriate active behaviour, and minimise their own inactivity.
  • Active transport is promoted and encouraged.
  • Television and computer screens are not placed in children’s play spaces.
  • An appropriate balance between inactive and active time is maintained each day.
  • Parents are provided with information on how to avoid sedentary behaviour at home, and advice on showing their children how to be active.