Preschoolers aren't getting enough variety or nutrition in the food they're provided at early childhood education centres, a study shows.
A study by the University of Auckland and published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health on Thursday reveals only three of 57 centres' menus sampled provided sufficient variety, quantity and quality to meet half a pre-schooler's nutritional needs.
New data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows 95 percent of three and four-year-olds in New Zealand are enrolled in care outside the home; most attend six hours a day, three or four days a week.
Previous international studies showed food served in childcare services didn't comply with national dietary guidelines; mostly by providing too much energy and salt and not enough vegetables, protein-rich foods and cereals.
It also showed that the childcare environment has a huge impact on children's eating behaviours.
Almost 30 percent of New Zealand's preschoolers currently meet the World Health Organisation's definition of overweight or obese.
More than 250 ECEs participated in an online survey, but that was just 30 percent of those invited, and of the 57 menus analysed, most did not meet nutritional guidelines.
"There is growing concern about the development of poor nutritional patterns and behaviours early in life and high levels of childhood obesity. It is imperative that the food served to children in education settings is adequately monitored," the authors urge.
"This study has created a method that could be replicated for monitoring of compliance in the early education sector."