On Monday Finland’s National Nutrition Council rolled out nutrition guidelines, for the first time focusing on pre-school-age children. The recommendations provide national authorities, local care officials as well as parents with tools to evaluate and monitor the nutrition of children in early childhood education programmes and to develop their work, the Food Safety Authority Evira said.
"Finnish children eat far too few vegetables. Early years education provides an ideal opportunity to promote the use of vegetables in meal planning and to help children become familiar with the world of vegetables through different flavours," said Research professor Suvi Virtanen of the National Institute for Health and Welfare and nutrition council member.
Although a majority of Finnish families already follow national nutrition guidelines, officials say that families with low incomes, little education or where the parents are very young are usually the ones that end up with unhealthy lifestyles.
Officials have pointed to research indicating that the weekday diets of kids in kindergarten tend to more closely follow the nutrition guidelines than those of children cared for at home. However shrinking budgets mean that some care providers may face challenges following the guidelines, especially given the need to cater to children who may be vegetarian or have special diets.
Eating habits learned during childhood
The new early education nutrition guidelines also emphasise habits relating to meals and learning how to get used to new things. Taste preferences change as children get used to different foods, the council noted.
"Mealtime is an important part of early childhood education. It is a daily pedagogical activity, but it’s also a central part of a child’s healthy upbringing and development. Taste preferences and eating habits are formed early on and extend far into the future," said Education Ministry senior advisor Pia Kola-Torvinen.
The recommendations also provide model meals to help officials and parents put together balanced meals for pre-schoolers.
"The images of model meals are also an important message to care-givers of children about the composition of meals and they encourage dialogue about children’s meals between the home and early education programmes," said Arja Lyytikäinen, general secretary of the nutrition council.