Edmonton

Nutrition report card gives Alberta daycares a failing grade

Responses from 64 government-subsidized daycares, which are required to follow a government sanctioned food guide to be licensed, were compiled to come up with the failing grade.

64 licensed daycares were surveyed to determine whether they follow guidelines

Jasvinder Heran says the Intercultural Child and Family Centre fridge is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, as per the Canada Food Guide. (Jasvinder Heran)

Alberta's latest nutrition report card is out, and it says only 27 per cent of licensed daycares in Alberta follow nutrition guidelines. 

Responses were compiled from 64 government-subsidized daycares, which are required to follow a government sanctioned food guide to be licensed.

"Child development before the age of six … really sets the stage for their full life," said Kim Raine, a professor in the University of Alberta's School of Public Health and co-author of the report. 

"To not be providing the optimal nutritional choices for kids in childcare centres was one of the things we were most disappointed with." 

This is the first time in five years of assessments that information was available about foods offered in daycares. 

Tara Little, an Edmonton mom who has two young sons, said she has had her share of frustrations with the daycare system. 

"I feel like we pay a lot of money for daycare," said Little. "Kids don't eat that much. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that a portion of your monthly fee goes to giving them actual nutrition." 

Raine said one challenge some daycares face is a lack of facilities for food preparation. Instead, they rely on prepared packaged food, which may not be of optimal nutritional quality. 

There could also be financial limitations, making it difficult for some centres to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. A lack of education and nutrition training could also be a factor.

"What we do know is that most training programs for childcare professionals have little to no nutrition education," Raine said. "So there may be a lack of awareness of the optimal nutrition ... and they may actually believe they're doing the best that they can do."

Kim Raine co-authored Alberta's 2019 Report Card on Food Environments for Children and Youth. (Supplied by Kim Raine)

The data was gathered through an assessment tool developed by Creating Healthy Eating and Active Environments for Childcare (CHEERS). It asked six questions, including whether meals include foods from all four food groups as outlined by Canada's Food Guide. 

The information was self-reported, so Raine said the results could actually be worse than the research indicates. 

Jasvinder Heran is executive director at the Intercultural Child and Family Centre, just west of downtown Edmonton. The centre was one of the licensed daycares surveyed for the report. 

"I'm not surprised," Heran said, when asked for her reaction to the results. "I've been in some of these kitchens, and it's sad.

"If we're going to look at the whole child, and support them from the inside out, we need to look at what these $25 a day daycares are feeding them." 

At the centre, Heran said, an independent volunteer shops for the groceries. The cooks prepare meals from scratch, and there is a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits. 

Heran said when parents come in to inquire about daycare, they are mainly concerned with the cost of care and hours of operation. She points out that when compared to investments in education, toys and equipment, food is a line item that usually gets cut. 

"It's up to the parents to dig deeper as to what affordable and quality means," she said. 

Heran encourages parents to ask questions like how lunch is served and what menus look like. 

The report outlined recommendations including mandating nutrition specific training for childcare professionals and providing resources so healthy food can be prepared onsite.

Raine would like to see follow-up assessments or inspections done to ensure licensed facilities are meeting government sanctioned nutrition guidelines.

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