Help for nurseries
Change can start today in your nursery. Here are our suggestions:
1. Create a food policy
A food policy is the bedrock of good nutrition in nurseries. Although it sounds complicated it need not be: it is simply a list of things agreed around the issue of food that a nursery will do. Many of the rules probably exist anyway but they may not be written down or turned into routine practice. Examples of what to include are how parents are told about the menu for the week, or how problem eating is dealt with, and the types of food and drink that are given throughout the day.
A food policy is a useful tool for reassuring and informing new parents, and explaining clearly the nursery policy on food. The policy can also form the start of a dialogue with parents on food provision. They should be asked for comments on it, and to input their ideas, perhaps via a school meeting. By doing this nurseries are spreading the word about good nutrition to parents too.
Childsplay nursery in Newcastle have an excellent food policy, described by one of the judges in the Nursery Food Awards as “the best food policy I’ve ever seen”.
2. Review the menu
Ensure that the nursery’s menu has been checked by a state registered dietician or a registered nutritionist, or registered public health nutritionist. These health professionals should make recommendations to ensure the menu meets the nutrient-based standards. Ask them to check meals against the Caroline Walker Trust Guidelines in the publication Eating Well for Under-5’s in Child Care.
Nurseries must then create an action plan to respond to those recommendations. Changes to the menu should be gradual so that the children accept them. All staff and parents need to be fully informed of the changes, and encouraged to contribute their thoughts.
Nutmeg menu-planning software will enable nurseries to design menus that meet the Caroline Walker Trust nutrient-based standards.
In order to encourage the use of more local produce, menus need to be designed around the seasons, particularly for fresh produce. Not only will this reduce food miles and the nursery’s carbon footprint, but also the food is likely to have higher nutritional value.
3. Use local, seasonal and organic produce
Nurseries can reduce their carbon footprint, reduce their costs, and ultimately provide more nutritious food to the children in their care if they buy locally produced food that is in season.
The Local Food Links organisation in the area will have details of local producers as will other local food directories. Any local farmers’ market will also showcase which foods are available locally. Ask potential suppliers to bring samples to the nursery. Encourage nursery managers to visit farms to see how and where the food is produced.
There may also be delivery co-ops or food hubs in the region that already deliver to community groups or schools – the local council’s sustainable development department or may be able to help.
Organic fruit or vegetable box schemes can be a very good way of getting around delivery problems and are usually very good value. Arrangements can often be made for a specific weekly order if one box is not appropriate.
Aim to source as much as possible from the local area. The Food for Life scheme specifies that to achieve Gold level, at least 50 per cent of ingredients should be locally sourced.
4. Provide more food-based activities
Food can be the basis of so many fun activities in nursery schools, not just cooking. It can play a part in counting and maths, science, dance, art and many more. Food-centred activities are also a good way of introducing children to new types of food before they are presented to them on a plate at lunchtime.
5. Assess training needs
Nursery managers should find out what training all the staff have had on food preparation and healthy eating. If there are gaps, training courses for all nursery staff should be investigated with the local council’s Early Years department. They will usually have nutrition and healthy eating training available which all nursery staff could take part in. If there is no local training available the nursery should ask the Local Authority to provide it.
6. Join the Food for Life Catering Mark
Food for Life Catering Mark The Food for Life Partnership, the campaign to improve school meals, has recently developed the Food for Life Catering Mark so caterers (including nurseries) can show their customers that the food is fresh, honest and additive-free as well ensuring that issues, such as animal welfare and climate change, have been taken care of.
The three tiers of Bronze, Silver and Gold allow caterers to make step-wise progress towards greater use of fresh, seasonal, local and organic ingredients, high welfare meat and sustainable fish. Food for Life catering mark logos are awarded for use on approved menus, and on any related marketing materials.
7. Make meal times more sociable
Nurseries should provide bright tablecloths, use real crockery with older children and allow more time for eating lunch. Staff should always eat with the children and eat the same as the children. Children can help lay the table in rotas, and take turns to be waiters and waitresses for the day. Bowls of food should be put on the tables so that the older children can help themselves; this helps to develop hand to eye co-ordination.
Parents could also be invited to eat with the children once a term, on a rota if space is an issue, so that they are involved in the school’s meals and can be reassured about what their children are eating.