How Ministry of Education new food rules will change what foods can be served at early childhood centres

  • 11/12/2020

By Tess Woolcock

The Ministry of Education has announced it will make changes to what foods can be served up at early childhood education (ECE) centres across the country, to the delight of teachers.

But it's parents who also need to be educated.

The guidelines come after a Rotorua toddler was left severely brain-damaged following a daycare choking incident in 2018.

From popcorn to hard crackers, kindergarten lunchboxes are set to look very different.

The Ministry of Health has introduced new guidelines which will come into force from January 25, 2021 and change the kind of food being served at ECE centres across the country.

It's been four years in the making for Sarah Alexander, an advocate for the Renata family, who's 22-month-old Neihana Renata choked on a piece of apple at his Rotorua daycare in May 2016.

Neihana was left starved of oxygen for 30 minutes and he now can't walk or talk.

"It's certainly a relief," Alexander told Newshub on Friday. 

"It means that no more children will suffer injury or die because the Ministry of Education allows what the Ministry of Health says is dangerous to do, and that is give food that is high risk for choking to our young children."

Peter Reynolds from the Early Childhood Council has also welcomed the news, but said it's been a long time coming.

"We're 2020... what's been happening the last 2000 years? It is so unfortunate it has taken such a tragedy to bring this to the fore."

Dani Watkins told Newshub her centre on Auckland's North Shore will need to make sure its parents are educated about what foods they can pack for their children.

"We'll have to contact all the parents and make sure they are aware of the new rules and then come up with a policy," she said.

The new guidelines include a list of food that has been banned altogether, including:

  • whole nuts
  • large seeds
  • potato chips
  • hard rice crackers
  • dried fruit
  • sausage or cheerios
  • popcorn
  • any sweets or lollies

Then there are guidelines on how to make food safer, such as removing skin from meat and chopping it up into small pieces.

Clinical nutritionist Gina Rose said it's about making sure parents slice tomatoes and grapes long ways, as cutting them in half is the exact size of a little child's windpipe, so cutting longways will prevent choking.

When it comes to hard food like apples or carrots it's all about the preparation. Parents with children under 3-years-old will need to make sure they are grated, and for those aged 4-6 it should be cut into strips around 4cm long.

The rules will mean parents will need to get a whole lot more creative in the kitchen to keep little eaters safe.