Blog: Cat looks into alternatives to food rewards

Our work to facilitate healthy eating opportunities for all islanders has been ever expanding since the Health Improvement Commission first established in 2018. With this expansion comes our newest team member, Cat Tyrrell, who has joined the Eat Well team as its Project Support Officer. 

In her initial weeks in the role, Cat has been looking into work carried out by the island’s primary schools, early years settings and child minders to support children’s nutrition and health. Below, Cat takes a look at how the initiatives of local child minders can also be enjoyed by families over the upcoming summer holidays.

Over the past five years the Health Improvement Commission has been working to help improve access to healthy food and activity for all, and I’m proud to continue to build on this through supporting people and settings in our community. 

So far, I have been meeting with educational and childcare settings to learn about what initiatives they have been implementing that increase opportunities for young people to eat well and be active. 

With the summer school holidays fast approaching, I was interested to hear of some of the fantastic initiatives developed by local child minders which could be adopted in a similar way by summer groups and parents. 

They’ve done an incredible job of creatively coming up with alternatives to food-related activities to help the children they support build healthy relationships with food. Removing food as a reward helps children to better regulate their food intake by encouraging them instead to eat only when they are hungry. In turn this helps avoid emotional attachments to food, such as seeking foods high in fat, sugar and salt to feel happy, which are then difficult to shake off in adulthood.

Local child minder Ginny Heaume spoke to me about a great example of how they have recently removed food from Easter egg hunts, but retained all the fun:

“The hunt was set out around the nature walk at KGV. We used objects that we had hand crafted, plus reusable plastic eggs of different colours. Each child had a picture of the items to be found during the walk adventure. Instead of chocolate, they were each rewarded with an Easter themed sticker at the end of the walk and they loved it!”

Reusable plastic egg hunt at KGV
Reusable plastic egg hunt at KGV

Ginny also told me that outings to local farms and small holdings have been a frequent favourite for many years, offering the children an opportunity to learn about fresh food and where it comes from.

“Myself and other child minders enjoy implementing these healthy education opportunities and we love the outdoors in all weathers. We take many opportunities for outings to share with the children where our food comes from and to nurture them to enjoy these experiences. We also regularly grow vegetables and plants; seeding sunflowers and seeing how tall each child's plant gets is a firm favourite!”

The good news doesn’t stop at healthy eating. Local child minders have also been working alongside our Be Active team to include more physical activity on a daily basis. They have engaged with us to learn and share ideas around the importance and positive impacts of activity in young children and many have taken advantage of the grant attached to this training package, applying for play equipment to help the children in their care move more, develop their strength and break up any periods of prolonged inactivity. These grants have supplied child minders with things like stepping stones, balance boards, balance bikes and scooters, to name but a few.

So with the holidays coming up, how can these ideas be adopted in households or settings? Well, Easter may already be a distant memory, but treasure hunts are popular all year round. So much so that there is a global hunt continually taking place. I’m talking of course about geocaching. People around the world have taken to the outdoors and hidden little treasures for others to find. It’s simple and free and there are plenty to be found on Guernsey.

Fruit and veg seedlings can also be grown throughout the summer months, often requiring very little space. A sunny windowsill could be the perfect spot for a young tomato plant.

Young children growing vegetables
Young children growing vegetables

As for getting active, we are fortunate to live on an island where, within minutes, we can be at beautiful beaches, parks and cliff paths. The Commission’s advice has always been to just get out there and enjoy this free and fun environment. We especially advocate the benefits of active travel, so why not make walking or cycling a part of as many trips as possible over the holidays?

Saumarez Park offers a free bike park suitable for children aged 12 years or under. In 2021, the Commission installed markings on a section of the park pathway to give young children the chance to practice cycling in a safe environment and learn some key road skills. Alternatively, both Saumarez and Delancey Park have a children’s play area with a diverse range of equipment to develop a child’s strength.

Bike park at Saumarez Park - young girl riding her bike
Bike park at Saumarez Park - young girl riding her bike

This is also a good opportunity to mention our collaborative project with the Youth Commission and their summer Playscheme. In our ‘Farm to Fork’ project, we will be offering learning opportunities through multiple activities around healthy food. Children will get to try healthy lunchbox items, see how food is produced at local farms, shop for ingredients and prepare lunch for each other. We will also be providing each child with a fruit and vegetable snack every day of the Playscheme. There are still some spaces available – please click here to book!

In my short time so far in this role, it's been really encouraging to see settings be innovative and seek the assistance available to them to help improve access to healthy food and activity for the island’s children. The Health Improvement Commission is here to help, so if your educational or childcare setting has an idea, or you could benefit from resources and guidance, please get in touch. As for me, I’m looking forward to continuing the Eat Well Team’s work with parents, settings and professionals to support children and young people in developing healthy relationships and habits around food, building on the great work already being done in our community!

Related content: Building healthy relationships with food