A Bay of Plenty early childhood centre owner has questioned some incoming food safety rules aimed at minimising the risk of children choking.
A ban on centres providing certain foods starts on Monday following lobbying from the Rotorua family of a boy left severely brain-damaged after a choking incident.
Some believe the Ministry of Education has taken the new rules too far.
The ministry says the rules will further support the safety of children at early learning services.
Food such as hard rice crackers, dried fruit, popcorn, nuts, large seeds, hard or chewy lollies, crisps, sausages or saveloys and marshmallows can no longer be served under the new rules.
Small hard food such as raw apple or carrot has to be grated if raw or cooked until soft and cut into strips.
Other rules include removing stones, seeds or skin from some foods and chopping or shredding others. Peas, for example, must be cooked and squashed with a fork for under-3s but older children can have them whole.
Services that do not provide food must promote the guidance to parents, but it is not compulsory for parents to stick to the rules.
The rules were previously Ministry of Health guidelines recommended to centres, but the Ministry of Education has made them mandatory.
Michelle Pratt, co-owner of the Bay of Plenty's New Shoots chain of early childhood centres, said in principle she thought the new food safety rules were good because they were about keeping children safe, which was the priority.
She agreed with the rules for under-3s but, in her view, some of the rules for older children were "ridiculous" and needed further consultation.
She was concerned they could have unintended consequences, for example, limiting the development of children's chewing muscles in the neck and the development of gag reflexes.
She believed the rules would also put parents who were time and financially poor under more pressure.
Pratt said New Shoots centres had already generally been following these rules when they were just guidelines and would continue to comply because "safety comes first".
In response, the Ministry of Education's deputy secretary of sector enablement and support, Jann Marshall, said Ministry of Health guidelines had always been included in the guidance for the early learning licensing criteria.
She said making them a requirement would further support the safety of children at early learning services.
She said the ministry was pleased New Shoots centres were following the recommendations and helping keep children at the service safe.
"The Ministry of Health's recommendations to services are informed by a comprehensive review it completed in 2012, and an analysis of subsequent literature, data, international recommendations, specialist opinion and consideration of the ELS environment.
"In 2019, we asked the Ministry of Health's advice on minimising the risk of food-related choking. In addition, a paediatric speech-language therapist specialising in feeding and eating development participated in formulating the most appropriate recommendations for early learning services. Sector representatives also provided advice."
In Judea, Explore and Flourish centre manager Charmaine Garner said they had looked at the ministry's requirements and made any changes needed to their menu.
"We've got a set menu and there wasn't a lot to change for us. We provide all the food onsite so we don't need to worry about food coming into the centre.
"We are going to inform the parents of our changes."
Eric Hollis, curriculum leader of The Ole Schoolhouse Early Childhood Centre in Rotorua, said it wouldn't be a big change for them as they already followed the guidelines.
He said centres had a role to protect children and experts had said certain foods were risky, so any sensible facility would already be following the guidelines.
"It's not advisable to fly in the face of science ... It's a perfectly reasonable risk management strategy."
He said choking incidents were incredibly traumatic for staff and children witnessing them and all steps should be taken to minimise them.
The Ministry of Education's decision to make the guidelines mandatory followed lobbying from the Rotorua family of Neihana Renata.
Neihana was 22 months old when he choked on apple at his Rotorua daycare in 2016. The family declined to comment to NZME this week but said last year they were "absolutely thrilled with the news" of the rule changes.
Childforum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander, who supported the Renata family in their campaign, has defended the new rules, telling the Rotorua Daily Post they were like other laws designed to keep children safe.
"Should buckling children into their car seats when travelling, or adults smoking around children in the service be optional?"
Alexander said the changes were not a reaction to one choking case.
She said many teachers and parents had since come forward and told her about choking incidents that could have been avoided had the guidelines been followed.
"Choking incidents are a lot more common than is reported."
Regarding food prepared by parents, she said: "Sometimes saving lives involves spending an extra 30 seconds preparing your child's lunch each day."
She said a 3-year-old at home might have been introduced to eating slices of raw apple but in an early childhood centre, there weren't usually enough adults to give one-to-one attention to each child.
She said a child could pick up dropped food they were not used to and choke on it.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said in December the amendments were designed to keep young children safe by minimising the risk of choking.
"Prior to this change, early learning services were encouraged to follow the Ministry of Health guidance on the provision of food. Now it will be compulsory," she said.
"Food choices must also meet the nutritional and developmental needs of each child."