Promoting healthy eating in early childhood services during coronavirus
We understand that early childhood education and care services are currently operating under very different circumstances as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19). And you may have fewer children attending who you still need to provide nutritious foods and drinks for.
Victorian early childhood education and care services are still encouraged to provide nutritious menus for children in line with the menu planning guidelines, however we understand why this may be difficult at present.
We have provided some advice below about how you can continue to provide and promote healthy eating in your centre at this time.
You can also contact us with any questions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on 1300 22 52 88 (someone will take your details, and one of our friendly staff will call you back).
You can continue to use our free services to:
- assess long day care menus online using FoodChecker
- learn about the menu planning guidelines for long day care and outside school hours care (OSHC) in our free online training
- contact us with any questions.
And keep browsing our website for information on:
- planning healthy menus
- recipes and healthy food and drink ideas
- allergies and intolerances
- developing a healthy eating policy
- promoting healthy eating through learning and play
- and more!
Recently it has been harder to find certain foods and drinks in supermarkets and from other suppliers. This is getting better, but if you have been unable to purchase some of your usual ingredients, here are a few ways to overcome that.
The following ingredients can often be substituted for each other to provide a similar amount of food from the same food groups. This will help you provide enough foods from the five food groups in line with the menu planning guidelines.
- Pasta and grains: rice, pasta, barley, cous cous, noodles, quinoa, semolina, polenta.
- Breads and crackers: bread, wraps, rolls, pita, focaccia, pizza bases, wholegrain crackers.
- If using small amounts (for example to thicken a sauce): corn flour, oat flour, rice flour.
- If using large amounts for baking: You could use gluten-free flour (if available) or oat flour (make your own by blending oats in a blender), or try a new recipe that uses a something different, like spelt flour. You could mix these products with wheat flour to use less of your limited flour.
- TIP You could use potato as a carbohydrate instead of breads or grains in your dishes.
Think outside the box: If you don’t have lasagne sheets, you could use flat breads. Or if you don’t have rice or noodles, you could serve a stir-fry with toast.
Meat and alternatives
- You can generally substitute any meats with another meat to get a similar result. Try minced or diced red meat, chicken breast, chicken thigh (skinless), pork, fish (fresh, frozen, or canned in spring water).
- If you have trouble buying meats, or if you want to make a meat-free dish, you can use legumes or tofu as a protein substitute.
- TIP Eggs are a tasty and affordable protein food too.
Milk and alternatives
- Milk: Fresh milk, UHT milk, powdered milk, calcium-fortified milk alternatives such as soy milk, oat, rice, or almond. Make sure they provide at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml of milk.
- Instead of using milk when cooking: try using fruit puree (sweet baking), water (sweet or savoury), or stock (savoury cooking).
- TIP The children in your service could get their 2 serves of dairy a day from foods like yoghurt or cheese, instead of milk, if needed.
Fruits and vegetables
- Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables are all nutritious options that can usually be substituted with each other quite easily.
- Choose canned fruit in natural juice (not syrup), and canned vegetables with no or little added salt.
- If you can’t access canned tomatoes and/or passata, try:
- buying a reduced salt tomato soup (add water if it’s too thick)
- using tomato paste (1/2 the amount of canned tomato/passata you would use) and add some stock and water to create a tomato sauce,
- make a white sauce, or pesto, and add some extra vegetables to make up for the missing tomatoes.
- TIP Legumes can be used as vegetables too!
Tips compiled with inspiration from NAQ Nutrition, Substitutes for ingredients with limited availability during COVID-19
If you are having trouble buying certain items, or if you can no longer get groceries delivered from a supermarket, you could consider sourcing your groceries from somewhere else:
- Wholesalers, such as Bidfood and PFD Food Services.
- Local markets. Find your local farmers market here.
- Food delivery services
You may be able to get enough groceries from household delivery services, especially if you are cooking for fewer children. We’ve compiled a list below, and we’ll add to it as we learn about more.
- Your Grocer delivers groceries from popular markets like Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market, Preston Market, and Prahran Market.
- iPantry offers a wide range of groceries and household essentials.
- Office Fruit provides fruit, vegetables, dairy, juice, eggs, bread, yoghurt, nuts and more.
- Here’s a list of hospitality businesses around Melbourne that are offering grocery ‘boxes’. Find one near you.
Tips compiled with inspiration from Early Childhood Australia, ECA Covid-19 response.
- There is no evidence that coronavirus (COVID-19) is transmitted through food.
- Maintaining good hygiene practices is recommended.
- Anyone with suspected symptoms of respiratory illness should avoid preparing food for other people.
- Businesses need to follow any social distancing requirements requested by the Australian Government.
For more information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and food safety, visit Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s website:
Do I need to wash my fruit and vegetables before use?
It’s always a good idea to wash fresh fruit and vegetables under running water before eating. Don’t use soap, disinfectants or detergents to wash your food. These cleaning products aren’t designed for human consumption. They may actually be unsafe to use with food.
Does the coronavirus (COVID-19) survive on surfaces?
Studies suggest that coronavirus (COVID-19) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions such as the type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.
If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a common household disinfectant to kill the virus.
In general, to avoid contact with the virus, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water often. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.
- Physical distancing and other transmission reduction measures - coronavirus (COVID-19): Actions for childcare centres and kindergartens, Department of Health and Human Services.