Nursery Management

Healthy eating for kids – How to save money on catering

  • Healthy eating for kids – How to save money on catering

There’s no doubt that the increasing cost of living is having a significant impact on food availability and affordability. Recent figures show that nearly one in five families in the UK are now food insecure, and close to half of food insecure households have reported decreases in dietary quality.

Food inflation has reached its highest for 13 years and is having an impact on nursery budgets, including food costs. Nonetheless, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework rightly sets a requirement for early years settings to provide children with access to healthy, balanced and nutritious food and drink.

It is arguably even more important now than it has ever been that we fulfil that responsibility.

So, let’s take a look at some top tips on how to save money on your catering provision, whilst continuing to meet children’s energy and nutrient requirements.

Plan your menus

Meals and snacks in any early years setting should be planned using the Eat Better Start Better food and drink guidelines.

A menu covering between two and four weeks will provide children with dietary variety, and opportunities to learn about a range of foods – and planning ahead can help you to save money on your shopping, ensure nutritionally balanced dishes, and manage your food stock to reduce waste.

Introduce new menu rotations at least twice a year – for example, one for spring/summer and another for autumn/winter. Buying foods in season is cheaper and you will be helping children to learn about sustainable eating.

Do the research

Careful shopping is essential when the budget is tight – and this is as true for settings as it is for families. Compare the price of supermarket own brands with popular branded products and you’ll likely see a huge difference in price.

And, whilst the cost may differ, the taste, quality and nutritional value is usually the same. For example, supermarket own brand breakfast wheat biscuits cost £0.74, whereas the leading brand will set you back around £3.

Other options are to switch from ‘finest’ or standard to value ranges. You can also check if your preferred supermarket has any loyalty schemes which can offer money-off vouchers, discount coupons and special offers.

Consider alternatives, too. For example, if you have a local market, a trip there to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables could be a great educational activity for the children. Plus, some stalls reduce their prices towards the end of the day, so good timing could pay big dividends!

Choose wisely

If you can, buy store cupboard items, such as pasta, rice, lentils and other long-life items, in bulk, as this is generally the cheapest option. The bigger packs may cost you extra in the short term, but when you plan your menu in advance you know these items won’t go to waste.

Buying fresh fruit and vegetables can add up, but you may be able to cut the cost by finding misshapen produce, such as carrots and courgettes in weird and wonderful shapes, that are priced more cheaply than those considered more aesthetically pleasing.

Supermarkets tend to charge more for pre-prepared foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Instead, buy them whole, and chop and freeze them to save time when cooking at a later date.

For example, you can freeze herbs, garlic, onion, ginger, fruits and vegetables. Preparing fruit and vegetables is a great food activity for children; you can have discussions about where the food comes from, how to prepare it and its sensory properties.

Top tip: Ingredients like swede and butternut squash are notoriously hard to chop - if you give them a quick, one-minute burst in the microwave they will soften up a little.

Top tip: A great way of including a portion of vegetables at mealtimes is by adding frozen varieties for example, peas. Frozen fruit and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh, and last much longer; plus, because they are frozen as soon as they are picked, they retain the same nutritional value as the fresh version.

Try opting for cheaper cuts of meat, such as braising steak. Chicken thighs are much tastier than breasts and work well in tray bakes and casseroles. Cooking these meats slowly will break down the fibre in them making them super tasty at a lower cost; a slow cooker is ideal for this.

You can also consider meat-free days by choosing an alternative protein source, such as beans, lentils, pulses, tofu or soya. They’re usually much cheaper and contain lots of beneficial nutrients.

The Eat Better Start Better guidelines recommend providing one lunch and one tea for all children each week which uses pulses or a meat alternative as the protein source (although please note, bought and homemade products made from meat alternatives, for example Quorn, should be limited to no more than once a week).

Use what you have

There are lots of steps you can take to reduce food waste in your settings:

● Organise your cupboard and fridge/freezer space. A bit of order will ensure you don’t forget about ingredients. If you can see all of your items you are more likely to use them.

● It’s important to rotate items in your fridge, keeping items with the shortest shelf life to the front.

● Make sure your fridge is always set to 1-5 degrees; it ensures your chilled food lasts longer.

● Empty freezers are more expensive to run, so the fuller you keep it, the less energy it is using. A great reason to cook in bulk!

● Use every part of the food ingredient. For example, do you cut off broccoli stems and leaves, even though you can eat all of it? What do you do with vegetable scraps? Try using them in vegetable stock or put in soups.

● Planning meals and sticking to your shopping list can help reduce waste, but if you notice items are getting close to their use-by date, freeze them. Did you know that bread is one of the most wasted foods items? Try freezing it, preferably in portions (for convenience) and when it’s at its freshest. Make sure you store it in a freezer bag to avoid freezer burn.

● Talk to your chef and children about your menu. Which items are popular and which dishes result in more waste? Remember, repeated exposure and role modelling are important to support children to learn about and try new foods.

Support for families

Try sharing your top tips for shopping on a budget with families via your newsletter or through display boards. Signpost them to low-cost recipes – and remind them that ‘low-cost’ doesn’t mean less tasty!

There are several websites that provide great, budget-friendly recipes. For example:

First Steps Nutrition

NHS Better Health, healthier families

Support parents to reduce food waste using apps like SuperCook or BigOven, which can suggest recipes based on what families already have in their fridge and cupboards.

Olio, a food-sharing app, enables people to share food they won’t use with their local community, as well as collecting surplus supermarket stock. Unlike some other schemes, the food is completely free.

Edwina Revel is a registered nutritionist at Early Start Nutrition. For additional advice or support, visit Early Start Nutrition.