Patricia Mucavele shares practical tips on putting nutrition at the heart of your practice…
With three and four-year-olds in working families now eligible for 30 hours free early education and childcare each week, children are more likely than ever to consume meals in an early years setting on a regular basis. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to help more children eat well and develop good eating habits for life.
First stop – download our best practice guidance promoting and supporting healthy eating (ow.ly/ Wa3e30ectxt). It will help your setting to adopt and demonstrate a wholesetting approach to healthy eating so that your families can see that you’re really committed to helping them and their children live a healthy lifestyle. A food policy is a really great place to start – if you’ve not already got one, there’s a handy step-by-step template at ow.ly/ T8Vl30ectDo to help you develop one in consultation with your staff, children and families. Involving everyone in this process is a great way of making sure anything you put in place is right for you and your community. Setting out your approach to food provision in this way will help you to make sure children receive consistent messages about healthy eating while in your setting.
With the potential increase in the number of meals early years settings will be serving, it’s vital that breakfast, lunch, snacks and teas are healthy, balanced and nutritious. Our Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings in England (ow.ly/wDGa30ectMd) gives age-appropriate nutrition advice on the types and amounts of food to provide. Check our super-easy and quick fact sheets, which explain how to produce and share allergen information
Finally, a note on packed lunches. In our research with nurseries, well over a third of children bringing a packed lunch had crisps and almost a quarter had confectionary. If parents are bringing food in from home, signpost them to our guide on healthy packed lunches for young children (ow. ly/8uPf30ecK8W) – it will help them to get that box just right. Head over to Let’s Get Cooking at Home (ow.ly/ OQoX30ecKe8) for some great recipes that are super simple and packed with nutrition – our Mixed Bean Salad (ow.ly/ m5W430ecKl9) is a real favourite here at our Children’s Food Trust HQ!
Make sure the area where children eat is clean, warm and bright, and that the furniture, plates and cutlery are suitable for small hands.
Get the children involved in preparing, cooking and/or serving foods at snack and mealtimes wherever possible. Set age-appropriate tasks to help them feel that they are contributing.
Encourage children to try new foods – having an agreed approach to manage fussy eating included in your setting’s food policy can really help with this one!
Use meal and snack-times as an opportunity to talk to children about healthy eating, to help them develop good eating habits and social skills, including speaking and listening.
Encourage staff to eat together with the children, so they can engage the children in conversation about healthy food, where it comes from and how it’s prepared, and act as positive role models.
Patricia Mucavele is head of the Children’s Food Trust’s Eat Better, Start Better programme.