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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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3.1 Examples of healthy eating education interventions

Karen wanted to capture the interest and attention of as many parents as possible, so she planned to launch the campaign at the setting’s parents’ evening. The decision to use this opportunity was because 96 per cent of parents attended the evening. As parents would need to wait in the entrance hall until it was their appointment time, and they were less likely to be rushing in and out of the setting as on a normal day. This would give them the time to look at the information provided.

Karen thought carefully about how to present the information, and thinking about the diversity of the families, she wanted to develop an inclusive approach to the resources used in the campaign.

Karen produced several visual displays aimed at educating parents about healthy eating and drinking for children.

The following images illustrate some of the displays.

Sugar content display

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Figure 3

The image is a photo of a display prepared by Karen to illustrate to parents the sugar content of food that was included in children’s lunch boxes. She wanted to produce something that was designed to give what she described as a ‘shock tactic’ to parents. This was because the practitioners in the setting had noticed that many of the food and drink items that were included in the children’s lunch were very high in sugar content. To illustrate this fact, she displayed some of the items that were frequently included, and then she measured out the amount of sugar and poured it into a plastic bag as Figure 3 shows.

To gain maximum impact, the display was erected just inside the entrance to the setting where parents needed to wait until their appointment. Many of the parents expressed their surprise. Karen was able to pick up on comments that the parents made, and in an informed and sensitive way she was able to open up the conversation with the parents.

Karen had also extended the information to include leaflets about healthy drinking and oral health. This is because she had noted in the response to the parent questionnaire that some parents had demonstrated that they needed to know more about oral health She had prepared leaflets to give to parents.

Karen included the cost of the day’s eating and drinking, an important consideration for parents, especially as the setting was in an area of deprivation and many parents were living in poverty.

Recipe card display

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Figure 4
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Figure 5

Some parents claimed that their children didn’t eat vegetables at home and they didn’t have the time or money to waste on buying and preparing food that would be wasted and their children would still need feeding. To counter the parents’ scepticism about eating new and different dishes, the practitioners sent photos to parents via their electronic communication system of their children eating the meals at nursery. This caused surprise, but also gave some parents confidence to give the recipes a go.

The second main reservation about introducing different recipes was that parents were concerned that preparation and cooking would take up a lot more time. To counter this objection, as already mentioned, the setting had selected recipes that required a small number of ingredients. Karen gave suggestions about cooking larger batches in one go and then freezing small portions for later use. However, she was conscious that many parents may not have a freezer, and may not have suitable cooking facilities, therefore, knowing the family and sensitivity and not making assumptions was something they kept in mind.

Karen then produced a handout of each day’s recipe for the parents to take with them to try it at home, as illustrated in Figure 5. Many parents were very responsive to the healthy eating approach taken and claimed that it had helped them to change their eating habits.

The Eat Well Plate

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Figure 6

Karen prepared a poster which showed very clearly recommended food that would be regarded as healthy for young children. Using images meant that the information was more accessible for all parents. This was especially important because of the diverse nature of the parents, some had English as an additional language, were illiterate, had learning difficulties or had low levels of education. Karen also addressed healthy drinking, illustrating this with milk and water.

Clearly Karen and the practitioners worked hard to educate parents about healthy eating and drinking. The approach taken demonstrates a sensitive, realistic and supportive approach. They gave a great deal of thought to how they could make the information and resources as accessible to the diverse needs of the parents. And at the heart of the success of this campaign was the positive relationships that the practitioners had developed with their parents.

Activity 3 Reflections on Karen’s approach to the healthy eating campaign

Timing: 15 minutes
  1. What are your thoughts about Karen’s approach to educating parents about healthy eating and drinking?
  2. What, if anything, would you do differently?
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You may have other thoughts about what you would do, or possibly already do in relation to promoting healthy eating. This reminds us that each child and each setting is unique, and the approaches taken need to be specific to children, families and the setting. However, there are some basic principles and important considerations to bear in mind.

In the following section, Karen gives some of her thoughts about the important considerations.