Early years nutrition: building healthy habits

Every child deserves a healthy start in life. A good nutrition in the early years has a positive impact on a child’s development. Since the start of the breakfast programme 6 months ago, on 26 January 2015, activities to improve the nutritional status of children aged from 3 to 6 years old have been an effective investment for improving educational outcomes.


Children in an iLEAD community pre-school in Kandal receive a delicious and nutritious breakfast every day. “It is convenient because I can save some money,” says Him Sokcheang, 28 years old, a farmer and mother of two young children from the village of Toul Krain village in Kandal. For poor communities, the breakfast programme provides a strong incentive to send children to pre-school and keep them there. “The breakfast programme acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom,” explains AEA Programme officer Peter Downey. “It helps to increase school enrolment and attendance and decrease drop-out rates.”


Well-nourished children can focus better on their class activities rather than their stomachs. They can improve their cognitive abilities and are better able to reach their full learning potential. According to the 2013 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition, when early childhood programmes are combined with nutrition interventions, children can achieve better development outcomes. For Sokcheang, “daily school meals help my children to be healthy and smart! It is important for them to get food every morning. They are not hungry while they are learning.”  Another mother, Peach Ros, 40 years old, a garment factory worker adds: “If they have enough to eat, they listen better the explanations of the teacher.”


Sokcheang’s children benefit from the breakfast programme in Kandal ©AEA Cambodia / Sreang


Habits that will last a lifetime

The preschool years is the most important time to positively impact on learning and school performance. “It is never too early to start a healthy foundation for life,” adds Peter Downey. “Food preferences are often being formed at an early age so it is the right time to encourage healthy eating and behaviour. Pre-schools are adequate to promote healthy diets and, in a life course perspective, it will benefit the health and nutrition of the future generations.”


What’s on the menu? “I love food at school!” says Reth Samnang, a 5-years old boy. “I love eating porridge and cake! Everything is delicious.” Chean Chandy, a 5-years old girl says she also enjoys fruits and soya juice. The project also supports local agriculture. “I mainly use rice, pumkins, carrots, morning glory, other vegetables, fishes and liver of pork…,” says the cook Lay Guec Seak, 35 years old. Food is mainly bought locally, which benefits local farmers and the whole community while enhancing the sustainability of the programme. “In the future, I would like to share my experience with other pre-schools so I can help other children through cooking,” adds Lay Guec Seak.


Thanks to the generosity of AEA sponsors, these pre-school children receive adequate school meals and increase their opportunities to become healthy and productive adults. If more sponsors could be recruited for this programme, “I want my children to get food both in the morning and afternoon,” says Sokcheang while Ros wishes “this programme to continue for a long time. If we could get more school materials and toilets for the children, it would be good!”  Both mothers expressed their deep gratitude to the project team, AEA and all their sponsors.


Chean Chandy, 5 years old, enjoys daily school meals ©AEA Cambodia / Sreang