Licensing criteria for centre-based ECE services

Section 15 of the Education and Training Act 2020 defines an early childhood education and care centre as premises used regularly for the education or care of 3 or more children (not being children of the persons providing the education or care, or children enrolled at a school being provided with education or care before or after school) under the age of 6—

  1. by the day or part of a day; but
  2. not for any continuous period of more than 7 days.

Centre-based ECE services have a variety of different operating structures, philosophies and affiliations, and are known by many different names – for example, Playcentres, early learning centres, Montessori, childcare centres, Kindergartens, crèches, preschools, a’oga amata, Rudolf Steiner etc.

These centres are licensed in accordance with the Education and Training Act 2020 under the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008, which prescribe minimum standards that each licensed service must meet. Licensing criteria are used to assess how the centres meet the minimum standards required by the regulations.

For each criterion there is guidance to help centres meet the required standards.

The publication of the criteria on its own can be downloaded as a PDF [PDF, 719 KB] and printed. 

The licensing criteria were last updated in May 2016.


Licensing Criteria Cover

HS19 Food and nutrition

  • Criteria
    • Criteria

      Health and safety practices criterion 19

      § Food is served at appropriate times to meet the nutritional needs of each child while they are attending. Where food is provided by the service, it is of sufficient variety, quantity, and quality to meet these needs. Where food is provided by parents, the service encourages and promotes healthy eating guidelines.

      Documentation required:

      A record of all food served during the service's hours of operation (other than that provided by parents for their own children). Records show the type of food provided, and are available for inspection for 3 months after the food is served.


      The criterion aims to uphold the health, safety and wellbeing of children by ensuring the service meets their nutritional needs or alternatively encourages parents to do so. Requirement to keep records for 12 months has been reduced to 3, as this is considered to be a more useful minimum period of time. Record-keeping requirements serve two purposes;

      a) to demonstrate compliance with the criterion; and
      b) to provide useful information in the event of any allergic reactions that may develop in children attending.

  • Guidance
    • Guidance

      Any examples in the guidance are provided as a starting point to show how services can meet (or exceed) the requirement. Services may choose to use other approaches better suited to their needs as long as they comply with the criteria.

      There are a range of ways that centres can choose to meet the requirements of this criterion.

      In an all-day service, this usually involves either:

      • providing a full meal service (often prepared by designated kitchen staff)
      • parents providing food for their child to eat while attending (‘lunch-box’ service)
      • a combination of the two, for example, parents providing lunch, and the service providing morning and afternoon tea.

      In sessional services, children attend for shorter periods of time so full meals are not usually provided for children. However, centres may either provide snacks, or ask parents to provide these.

      Some services ask parents to donate food (usually fruit) that is prepared and served for all children to share while they are at the service.

      Special events such as birthday celebrations are another common time when food is provided to share.

      When providing food, the additional nutritional needs of children under the age of 2 needs to be considered.

      Children with known allergies are to be supervised when selecting from shared food or encouraged to eat their own food only.

      Some services may have set meal times and others have "rolling" morning or afternoon tea, i.e. the children are able to eat when they are hungry. If this practice is followed, staff or adult numbers need to allow for the supervision of children while they are eating (HS22 - Supervision while eating) and there needs to be a place set aside for the children to sit and eat (PF15 – Dining Facilities).

      Documentation Guidance

      It is important to note down any food served to children (other than what parents have provided for their own child to eat), so that information is available both in the event of an unexpected allergic reaction and for a historic record should an allergy develop.

      If a service provides meals, a record of the daily menu will provide this information.

      For a sessional service that routinely provides fruit, then a statement outlining that this will occur every day will meet this requirement, along with a note in the service’s daily diary if any particular variations from the ‘norm’ occur.

      If food is provided by parents to be shared, a simple list of all of the food provided for children will meet this requirement.

      Keep the records of food served for 3 months.

  • Things to consider
    • Things to consider

      Services may want to include Food and Nutrition as part of self review with all day services reviewing menus, and sessional services reviewing how and when food is provided.

      There are a range of resources available to help ECE services make healthy and informed choices about food provided to children, and to encourage parents to do the same.