By Ruth Wallace

The early years setting is an important environment in which children can learn about healthy eating, given more than 1 million children now attend some type of service for an average of 27 hours per week. The role of the early years setting is not limited to the provision of nutritious food only, but should also encompass the promotion and provision of a healthy eating environment in which children can learn good habits which they retain through adulthood.

Based on important feedback from the early year’s industry during the developmental stage of this project, the ‘Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare’ (SNAC) website was launched on 1st August 2013. Initially, only WA long day care services were targeted, but website coverage has now extended to all early years services Australia wide.

There are now more than 1000 registered users of SNAC, who enjoy easy access to reliable and accurate nutrition specific resources together with online activities, as a ‘one stop shop’. This website also provides educators with networking opportunities, nutritious recipes, and information and support which enables them to increase their own nutrition knowledge and confidence to both teach these concepts to children and discuss them with parents. The project is now in its evaluation stage, and data is being collected through online surveys and face to face interviews, with educators, cooks and directors willing to donate a little time to provide their valuable feedback.

SNAC has accumulated almost 40,000 page views, with the average user viewing 5 pages per visit. Resources and activities are well received, and the online community is growing. User feedback is actively encouraged, thus interweaving community involvement with the technological design to ensure the groups’ needs are met. Regular newsletters ensure that users are notified when new content is loaded, and competitions such as the ‘Building Unbreakable Bones’ have sparked interest and generated some lively discussions about healthy eating.

Qualitative data gathered through the face-to-face interviews has given the researchers some useful insights into how the SNAC website is utilised, what prevents educators from using the site more often and the value of the resources and discussions provided. The overwhelming response so far has been that SNAC is valued as a resource and has helped to increase nutrition knowledge and confidence to discuss nutrition concepts with children and their parents.

The main barrier which prevents educators from accessing the site more often is time, as there are often many other demands which need to be addressed. Many centres have created a ‘centre login’ which all staff then share – whilst this may be more convenient for busy centres, individual staff members are encouraged to create their own log ins so they are able to access the site whenever they like and individual experiences can be evaluated.

It is good to hear that many centres are also printing off resources and recipes to create a folder of materials to share with parents, via their own newsletters. It is also encouraging to hear the SNAC newsletter acts as a useful reminder to revisit the site.

Whilst the discussion boards have not been as active as we might have liked, there have been some really useful and important conversations which have taken place. For example, how to encourage children to eat more vegetables, whether vegetables should be ‘hidden’ in food, and the potential of ‘progressive’ mealtimes in the early years setting. Our discussions are always friendly and respectful, and we believe that we have created an online community environment where educators feel comfortable asking questions, knowing they will receive a professional yet honest reply. Educators have indicated they value these discussions, even if they do not contribute themselves.

The SNAC website remains open for new users to register and will continue to be updated regularly with current resources and information. If you would like to access the site please register at www.snacwa.com.au