The aim is to develop a sustainable operating model that supports children’s healthy diet and reduces the climate impacts of the food system in early childhood education and care (ECEC).
vegetables and sustainable species of fish will be offered at mealtimes in ECEC and the consumption of meat and milk will be adjusted to reasonable levels to meet recommendations.
will be promoted, the amount of food waste will be reduced and the financial and climate impacts of the change to a plant-based diet will be assessed.
An operating model
will be developed in cooperation between the professionals from municipalities, food services and ECEC, and children and their parents.
- 4 municipalities
- 23 day-care centres
- 400 children
The FoodStep project is implemented in four municipalities (incl. Lahti, the European Green Capital 2021) in a total of approximately 20 day-care centres, in which a total of 400 children between 3 and 5 years of age are studied (200 children in the intervention group and 200 in the control group).
The Food Step project is implemented and coordinated by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) together with the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), the University of Helsinki and Laurea University of Applied Sciences. The entire working group is introduced here. In addition, the municipalities of Ilmajoki, Kauhajoki and Kauhava, the City of Lahti, Päijät-Häme Social and Health Care Group, Päijät-Hämeen Ateriapalvelut Oy, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences SeAMK, the University of Turku, Finnish Society for Food Education Ruukku and Viikki Food Design Factory participate in the project. The main funder of the project is the Academy of Finland. The privacy notice for the study is available on the THL website. The co-creation of the operating model and the trial will be carried out between 1 February 2021 and 30 November 2024.
What we measure?
We will measure children’s overall diet and nutritional state, the climate impacts of their diet, and the knowledge, attitudes and practices of families, decision-makers, and food service and ECEC professionals with regard to nutrition and the environmental impacts of food. We will also measure the food waste of the day-care centre and the impacts of a more plant-based diet on climate and total costs.
With the help of previous projects
The FoodStep project will take advantage of the experiences and results regarding the impacts of food on health, climate and biodiversity that we have gained from our previous projects. For example, the DAGIS and the Nature Step towards Wellbeing projects were implemented in day-care centres and children’s everyday environments in close cooperation between ECEC staff, food service professionals and families.
Guidelines governing the activities
The activities are governed by the food recommendations for families with children, the meal recommendations for early childhood education and care and the National core curriculum for early childhood education and care. In the National core curriculum, food education is defined as part of ECEC pedagogy. The Eating for Health and Enjoyment meal recommendations for ECEC published jointly by the National Nutrition Council (VRN), the Finnish National Agency for Education and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) determine the general guidelines for the provision of health-promoting food, food education and the pedagogical guidance of the activities in ECEC.
A list of frequently asked questions:
No. The day-care centres in the intervention group will take a step towards a more plant-based diet but will not make the leap to eating only vegetarian food. The amount of plant-based products will increase on the menus of the day-care centres of the intervention group, but animal products such as red meat, chicken and fish will also stay on the menu.
During the trial period, the day-care centres of the intervention group will use a menu aimed at a smaller carbon footprint. Compared to a normal menu, the new menu also aims to better comply with the meal recommendations the National Nutrition Council has published for ECEC. The trial period will begin in February 2022. The control day-care centres will use a normal menu throughout the trial period.
The amount of red meat and processed meat products will be reduced on the new menu. The amount of fish will either remain the same as before or, preferably, increase slightly. Where possible, fish products will be changed for more environmentally sustainable alternatives. Efforts will be made to gradually increase the use of legumes, vegetables, root vegetables, fruit and berries. The aim is to adjust the intake of milk to a more reasonable level (see the question further down).
The red meat offered by public food services is generally beef or pork in different forms. In addition, meat such as mutton, reindeer and elk are also classified as red meat.
Processed meat means meat products that have been made, for example, by smoking, salting or adding nitrite to improve the preservation. Products such as sausages, Frankfurter sausages, salamis and bacons are classified as processed meat. Chicken and turkey that have been processed into sausages or cold cuts are also processed meat.
Legumes include all the different beans (broad beans, soya beans, black beans, kidney beans, etc.), lentils (e.g., green and red lentils) and chickpeas. They also include green beans that are sold fresh or frozen. The familiar garden peas, both fresh and dried, also belong to the legume family. The traditional pea soup is a legume dish that all Finnish people know well. Foods processed from legumes include tofu, crushed soya beans and soya shred, crushed broad beans or soya beans, pea flour, Härkis and Pulled Oats. A legume is often used in the manufacture of many convenience foods, such as different patties and balls.
This depends on the person but a person following a low FODMAP diet can often eat legumes. The fist stage of a diet low on FODMAP, in which foods containing FODMAP carbohydrates are eliminated from the diet as carefully as possible, lasts from 2 to 6 weeks. The diet will then be expanded again, reintroducing foods gradually and one by one to avoid unnecessary restrictions.
Canned beans, chickpeas, lentils and tofu are suitable legumes for most people following a low-FODMAP diet. They can also try Pulled Oats and Härkis. Preservation in salt water reduces the FODMAP carbohydrates because they are water soluble and dissolve in the liquid of the preservative. The third stage of the diet is the maintenance stage in which the diet is followed as flexibly as possible within the limits set by the symptoms. FODMAP carbohydrates can be included in the diet to the extent they the person’s intestine tolerates them.
Soya is a good source of protein and contains all of the necessary amino acids. As a rule, soya that has been grown directly for human consumption comes from old cultivation areas, which means that its cultivation does not involve the destruction of rain forests unlike the cultivation of soya used for animal feed (in Finland, used mainly in broiler chicken farming). Soya bean is a legume that can bind nitrogen from the atmosphere. For this reason, it does not need nitrogen fertilizers to the same extent as many other plants. It also produces reasonably high yields. For these reasons, the carbon footprint (climate impact) of soya is fairly small.
Yes. The recipes developed in the FoodStep project are drawn up to contain enough protein. They use a variety of legumes that provide the protein. The other parts of the meal, such as wholegrains and milk, also contain protein. The meals provide a diverse range of the necessary amino acids that the human body is unable to produce itself. Protein also makes the meal filling.
The National Nutrition Council’s recommendation to families with children states that 4 decilitres of liquid dairy products and one slice of cheese per day is sufficient for children under school age, while 5 or 6 decilitres of liquid dairy products and two or three slices of cheese per day is sufficient when they reach school age. Considering this recommendation, children of day-care age use a fairly large amount of dairy products. According to the DAGIS study, children between 3 and 4 years of age use approximately 5.5 decilitres and children between 5 and 6 years of age approximately 6.1 decilitres of liquid dairy products. These amounts describe the consumption on working days and include the dairy products used both at the day-care centre and at home. Liquid dairy products include milk, buttermilk, yoghurt and curdled milk. Consuming more milk than recommended replaces other food and reduces the nutritional diversity of the meal.
According to the DAGIS study, Finnish children of day-care age get on average over 900 milligrams of calcium from their food, while the recommendation is 600 milligrams for 2–5-year-olds and 700 milligrams for 6–9-year-olds. The calcium content of one glass of milk is approximately 200 milligrams, so for a large proportion of children, drinking one glass of milk less does not risk the sufficient intake of calcium even if the milk is replaced with water. Plant-based drinks into which vitamins have been added usually contain the same amount of calcium as milk so that replacing milk with such a drink does not affect the calcium intake.
Environmental toxins accumulate in fish, but the amounts in many species are insignificant. It is therefore safe to increase their consumption. These fish include whitefish, vendace and roach, and perch, pike-perch and burbotin in sea areas. Because of the dioxins and PCB-compounds (dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls) accumulating in the oily fish of the Baltic Sea (e.g., Baltic herring, salmon and eel), it is recommended that children, young people and persons of reproductive age should not eat large herrings (over 17 cm before cleaning) or salmon or trout caught from the Baltic Sea more than once or twice a month. However, the concentrations have declined significantly in the past 20 years. There are differences between the mercury concentrations of the different water bodies, but the highest concentrations are found in the predatory fish (pike, pike-perch and perch). Because of mercury, children, young people and persons of reproductive age should not eat pike more than once or twice a month, whereas it is not recommended at all to pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, fish is beneficial to health overall and it is therefore recommended that fish be eaten at least twice a week, as long as the species vary and the above-mentioned exceptions are considered.
It is important for the generalisation of the results that the project has participants from different parts of Finland. We wanted to include in our study municipalities that were of different sizes and had not previously been involved in activities developing meal provision in ECEC according to the objectives of our project. The European Commission has appointed Lahti as the European Green Capital (European Green Capital Award, EGCA) for 2021 as the first city in Finland. Lahti was therefore very interested in cooperation that increases ecological sustainability and improves the welfare of its residents. The Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences is an important cooperation partner of the project. With their help, we recruited municipalities from South Ostrobothnia to the study. Kauhajoki, Ilmajoki and Kauhava wanted to be involved in the development and piloting of the FoodStep operating model.
The study will be conducted in 2022 in four municipalities in which the division of the participating day-care centres to intervention and control groups will be decided by lot. During the year, a food education intervention will be conducted in the day-care centres of the intervention group with the aim of promoting the acceptability of vegetables and legumes among the children. During the study, only the day-care centres in the intervention group will have access to the material. However, when the study ends, the material will be made openly available on our website.
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