Licensing criteria for centre-based ECE services

Section 10 of the Education and Training Act 2020(external link) defines an early childhood education and care centre as a premises that is 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 who are being provided with education or care before or after school) under the age of 6 years by day (or part of a day) but 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(external link), 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, 1.8 MB] and printed. 

The licensing criteria were last updated in September 2022. 


PF15 Dining facilities

  • Criteria
    • Criteria

      Premises and facilities criterion 15

      There is a safe and hygienic place for children attending to sit when eating.


      To ensure that the areas where children eat are safe and hygienic.

  • 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.

      How centres provide safe and hygienic places for children to sit while eating will differ from centre to centre. Some centres will choose to have a separate dining room, but this is not a requirement. Places for children to sit and eat include:

      • at tables in the main activity area
      • on mats spread on the floor or ground
      • on benches outside
      • sitting on the edge of low decks
      • sitting on grass, bark, or other surfaces.

      If the centre does not have a separate dining room, making use of existing tables and chairs within the general activity space is a practical way of providing places for children to sit and eat.

      Table surfaces can generally be made hygienic by spraying with a diluted bleach solution (see the guidance for HS1 – Premises and Contents Are Safe and Hygienic) and then being wiped dry before use. If there is concern table surfaces are not able to be made completely hygienic through wiping, washable covers can be used as a barrier between the table and food. Covers are also a good way of showing children that the table is now an eating place rather than an activity place.

      Large easy-to-clean mats spread on the floor or on the grass, benches, and the edges of low decks are also practical ways of providing places for children to sit and eat.

      High chairs or seats that attach to the edge of a table can be used as places for infants and young toddlers to sit while eating. Low tables and small chairs for sitting infants to eat their meals can help foster greater independence. Their use should be supervised (see the guidance for HS22 – Supervision while Eating).

  • Things to consider
    • Things to consider

      When considering how to provide children with safe and hygienic places to sit while eating you might like to think about:

      • the ages and abilities of the children attending
      • the length of time children attend
      • any cultural or family considerations
      • how often children eat at your centre each day
      • if meals are scheduled or rolling
      • location of eating areas in relation to hand washing facilities
      • if clearing tables for meals will impact upon the programme
      • the philosophy that underpins the service
      • the kind of food provided, for example, food cooked at the centre or packed lunches brought by the children
      • the space available
      • whether the existing furniture is suitable
      • how food can be kept safe and hygienic while being consumed
      • service or organisational policies.

      When meals or snacks are eaten outside there are some safety and hygiene issues to consider:

      • Children sitting directly on grass or safety surfaces such as bark or matting should be encouraged to keep uncovered food on a plate or in their lunch box. This will reduce the chance of food becoming contaminated from contact with the ground.
      • Children eating outside need protection from the sun during this time. If possible, locate outdoor eating places under trees, shade sails, covered decks, sun umbrellas, and covered pergolas.

  • Gallery
    • Gallery

      • Some examples of eating outdoor facilities at centres, e.g. use of benches outside
      • Example of low table and small chairs for sitting infants to eat their meals - avoids use of high chair

      Low level tables and chairs on easy clean flooring.

      View larger image [JPG, 80 KB]

      Low level tables and chairs on easy clean flooring.