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Nutritious and delicious – the importance of healthy day nursery meals

Article By: Rachel Baker, News Editor

Children spend a large amount of time in day nurseries, so parents and guardians need to be assured that their children are having healthy, nutritious food as part of a balanced diet. Today’s pre-schoolers have more dietary requirements and may need a different menu due to food allergy, intolerance, religious requirements or vegetarianism.

Photo thanks to Children’s Food Trust

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is the statutory framework setting the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. A revised framework was introduced in September 2012 which includes a requirement that: ‘Where children are provided with meals, snacks and drinks, these must be healthy, balanced and nutritious’ and ‘Fresh drinking water must be available and accessible at all times’.

Senior nutritionist at the Children’s Food Trust, Claire Wall suggests that nurseries should plan menus in advance so that the children receive “food and drink that is balanced across the day with three meals - breakfast, lunch and tea – plus two snacks including a good variety of different foods.”

Senior nutritionist at the Children’s Food Trust, Claire Wall

In January 2012, the Children’s Food Trust launched the ‘Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings in England’, ensuring that childcare providers have a nationally-recognised source of guidance to help meet the EYFS requirements.

The practical guide is dedicated to planning menus and practical tools to help ensure all children eat a healthy diet.

The Trust states that to make sure children get a good balance of nutrients, their meals and snacks when aged one to five, should be based on a range of foods from these four food groups:

1. Starchy foods

2. Fruit and vegetables

3. Meat, fish, eggs, beans

4. Milk and dairy

Leading experts in nutrition and development, The Infant &Toddler Forum, (ITF) has this week, launched its ‘Planning Meals for Toddlers’ factsheet for childcare settings and home.

Judy More, paediatric dietician and member of the ITF explained “A well planned menu will provide meals and snacks with foods from all the food groups. It will make budgeting and shopping for food quick and easy and help parents and carers plan time for cooking and preparing foods.

"This latest factsheet includes sample menus, tips to reduce preparation time and cost, a basic cupboard, fridge and freezer food guide and how to assess if the menu plan meets toddlers' nutritional needs for health, growth and development.”

Sue Robb, head of early years at 4Children, says: “The Infant & Toddler Forum’s new guidance is very much welcomed, particularly in light of Families in the Foundation Years and the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.

"Planning Meals for Toddlers provides an excellent resource to support settings in providing ‘on-the-job’ training for their staff. As well as supporting practitioners understanding, it also provides much welcomed guidance on informing parents around the importance of healthy, balanced and nutritious choices for meals, snacks and drinks for young children.”

The factsheet can be downloaded from:

Bright Start chef Robin, with Lacey and Sophia

Bright Start Nurseries Ltd in Aylesbury recently introduced new menus devised by following the Children’s Food Trust’s guidelines.

Meals use free range and higher welfare meat, as well as a range of pulses, dried fruits and dark vegetables to ensure the needs of children on vegetarian diets are met.

A two week rotating menu is in place, made up of classics like toad in the hole and shepherd’s pie alongside dishes like tomato and herb bruschetta, lamb, tomato and feta parcels and a delicious cocoa and beetroot cake. The meals have to be approved by the children before weekly menus are finalised.

The nursery has a strict no-nuts policy and always offers alternatives to children who, due to special dietary requirements are unable to have certain meals.

Kerry Stephenson, Bright Start Nurseries manager said: “Promoting healthy lifestyles is really important to us, so we work hard to teach the children about healthy living and healthy eating. By working with a nutritionally balanced and nourishing menu we can introduce the children to wholesome yet delicious food, whilst teaching them about the importance of good nutrition and fulfilling all their nutritional needs.

“We promote meal times as an opportunity for learning as well as a time for calm social interaction, and encourage good eating habits that will hopefully set the pattern for a child’s future relationship with food.”

At Care 4 Kids in Blackburn, menus are planned on a four week basis to reflect seasonal food changes. The nursery only uses fresh high quality ingredients, local produce and avoids the use of salt, pepper, colouring, artificial flavours and additives.

Care 4 Kids children have meals at their unique, handmade table

The nursery chef was recently awarded a five star rating for outstanding efforts in a routine inspection by Blackburn and Darwen Council.

The nursery is part of the Nursery Nutrition Programme the council and involves all menus being checked and approved based on their nutritional value.

Care 4 Kids nursery manager Vicky Barnes said: "At Care 4 Kids, we very much include food and nutrition as part of the children’s learning. We value their participation, experimentation and decision making.

"Therefore, cooking and tasting, where the children get to experiment with new textures, colours and smells as they mix, pour and measure ingredients, form part of our routine.

"All our meals are cooked daily on sit by our City and Guilds qualified chef using fresh quality ingredients."

nutricious, handmade food at Care 4 Kids

Kids Allowed nurseries approach childcare from a parent’s perspective ensuring children are nurtured and mums and dads are supported too.

Menus change seasonally and are created by collecting ideas from all of the chefs which are then balanced according to the Caroline Walker Trust guidelines. Menus are then released to parents for feedback on the website and social media channels before they are introduced to the children.

The nursery varies the menus but says that the children’s favourite is spaghetti in tomato and basil sauce for afternoon tea. The children have more than their five a day of fruit and vegetables and can get a drink of water at any point during the day from the specially built child sized sinks and paper cups, Milk is served with meals and fruit juice isn’t provided as can be bad for teeth.

Kids Allowed takes into consideration all dietary requirements including allergies, religious or cultural and vegetarian on board when creating its menus and meets with parents to discuss specific requirements.

Kids Allowed chef, Yvonne Burke

Each child attending Kids Allowed has a dietary photo card detailing food requirements. In the kitchen is a list of all children with particular dietary needs and separate meals are created for them as close to the menu as possible so they still benefit from all of the goodness and nutrients. All centres use halal meat, a vegetarian option is always provided and the chefs are professionally trained, from a variety of culinary backgrounds.

Kids Allowed is the first nursery in the UK to be accredited by The Vegetarian Society. Having its stamp of approval means the nursery follows the Society’s standards and guidelines for food and preparation. The veggie menus are guaranteed to be free from animal meat, contain only free range eggs are GMO and cruelty free and prepared in a separate area. The nursery doesn’t use any processed foods or commercially made products except for bread and everything is made from scratch.

Jennie Johnson, chief executive officer and founder of Kids Allowed said: “We have put together our own strict rules to ensure our children enjoy healthy and nutritional meals every day. Each of our centres has a qualified chef on site who has an in-depth understanding of nutrition and menu planning.

“We never use salt and minimise the use of sugar and this year we became the first UK nursery to be accredited by The Vegetarian Society to make sure the children who don’t eat meat have a great experience too.”

Kids Allowed chef, Emlyn Konstantino

Kiddi Caru was founded upon ethical principles to promote quality nursery care. Caron Moseley, marketing manager explained that the nursery’s menus are produced on a five week rolling basis with new menus launched every spring and autumn.

Ms Moseley said: “We take great care to provide children with nutritious and wholesome food, prepared by fully qualified professionals. We also plan our daily menus to include fresh and varied options that are suitable for each age group. Naturally we also cater for all individual dietary needs.

“Our new menus offer children food more regularly. Research undertaken by The Caroline Walker Trust recommends that children need to eat regularly which includes nutritious snacks between meals, these being low in added sugar i.e. fruit, vegetables, milk, yoghurt, any type of bread including sandwiches with savoury fillings.”

Kiddi Caru children enjoy being involved in menu planning

The nursery’s latest menus were checked by a qualified nutritionist who predominantly works with the education sector to help provide nutritious meals to children of nursery and school age and who has who has many years’ experience of working in the childcare industry and with day nurseries.

Kiddi Caru nursery children enjoy playing in active part in menu planning. The two to five-year-olds’ meal time is as an important opportunity for social interaction and a tool for building confidence and independence.

The nursery understands that meal times are an important part of life, and a good opportunity for children to learn about taking turns, table etiquette and enjoying the social occasion.

Ms Moseley explained: “Cooking is a great way for children to have fun whilst learning and Kiddi Caru has introduced cooking as part of its all-inclusive activities. Establishing healthy eating habits in young children is very important and Kiddi Caru approaches this from two directions. As well as ensuring the balance and nutritional values of their menus, Kiddi Caru also introduces the children to the process of cooking and producing food.”

Wellingborough Kiddi Caru has won the Heartbeat award for its nutrition

Kiddi Caru nursery in Wellingborough was assessed for and then successfully awarded the Heartbeat Award via the Local Authority Environmental Health Departments in partnership with Northamptonshire County Council and NHS Northamptonshire.

This enabled the nursery to work with not only one qualified nutritionist but also a fully qualified Heartbeat Award assessor who supported, advised and finally assessed menus to achieve the Heartbeat Award.

Ms Moseley said: “Gaining the Heartbeat Award means that the nursery has good standards of hygiene and provides healthy, nutritional food for children in their care.”

For more information about nutrition in day nurseries, visit:


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