Help for parents
By putting pressure on your nursery to improve its food offering, you and other parents are one of the most powerful agents for change. The information here might help you make your children's meal times healthier.
1. Ask the right questions
Whether you're child is already attending a nursery, or you're looking at prospective nurseries, showing an interest in the food and raising awareness of healthy eating with the nursery staff is the first place you should start. So meet with the nursery manager and don’t feel intimidated and guilty for asking – it is your right to know what the nursery intends to feed your child. If you feel you are not getting enough answers from the manager, ask to see the cook. If they are too busy, make an appointment to come back and see them another time.
Here are some suggested questions to run through with staff. On the menu:
- Can I see a typical weekly and monthly menu?
- How much of the food is prepared from fresh ingredients?
- Have you had the menu analysed by a nutritionist / do you know if the menu meets Caroline Walker Trust guidelines?
- Does the cook have training in nutrition?
- Where do you source your meat? Is it organic or free range?
- How many times a week and in what form is fish provided?
- Do you serve oily fish? If yes, what kind?
- What drinks do you provide between meals and at meal times?
- What do the children eat at snack time?
- What do they drink at snack time?
- How long do children have to eat their meals?
- Do the staff eat with the children?
- Do you encourage children to eat a bit of everything, including vegetables?
- Do you allow the older children to help themselves to the food?
Food in the curriculum:
- Do the children help to prepare the snacks or do cooking lessons? If they do cooking lessons, what do they cook?
- Do the children learn about food and healthy eating - how?
Many nurseries are genuinely trying to offer good food, and often when they fall short it is because of a lack of knowledge, rather than a lack of willing. So if the answers you get aren't to your satisfaction it's worth taking some time to explain what you'd like to see improved and why. To show that you are serious, and to give the nursery themselves some support you might want to offer to:
2. Set up a “food advisory group” between school and parents
If your nursery doesn’t have a liaison group on food, why not suggest to the nursery manager that one is set up? It could be based around the school nutrition action group (SNAG) model that exists in many primary and secondary schools. A SNAG is made up of pupils, parents, teachers and caterers and the aim is to “increase the uptake of a healthier diet and ensure consistent messages from the curriculum and the food“.
Some activities that the group could initially undertake are:
- Survey the parents of the nursery – what do they think about the food, are they happy, what changes would they like to see? This information can then be used to encourage the school to improve.
- Encourage the school to have a typical menu analysed by a nutritionist.
- Assess the food-based activities going on in school now, and make suggestions for more activities, for example vegetable printing, gardening or farm visits.
- If the school doesn’t have a food policy start to put one together.