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Government 'wrong' to emphasize calories over 'healthy' snacks, says nursery food supplier

Article By: Michaela Chirgwin

Katy Elliott, managing director of an early years food manufacturing company, explains to why additives in processed food cause further snacking, how orders have dropped since the introduction of ‘30 hours’ and why she thinks the Government’s 100-calorie snack scheme is ‘misleading’.

Ms Elliott winning her Entrepreneur Award at Merseyside Woman of the Year, 2016

Her company, The Nursery Kitchen Ltd The Nursery Kitchen’, is responsible for feeding over 20,000 mouths in nurseries across the country, but the food manufacturing company started from humble beginnings.

Ms Elliott started cooking for children from her kitchen at home in 1999 because she believed that, “the lunch and tea her son was given at nursery school should be better.”

100 calories snacks campaign: Government should be championing ‘healthy snacks’ instead

After nearly two decades in the industry, Ms Elliott isn’t afraid to speak out when it comes to making sure young children are fed healthily.

In 2014, the Government stipulated that ‘food should be offered to young children at least every 3 hours’. However, Ms Elliott begs to differ. She says: “We don’t agree with the policy of eating every 3 hours which we consider grazing and children who are not hungry don’t eat their lunch.”

Ms Elliott also has her issues with the unpopular new healthy eating campaign launched in January 2018 by Public Health England. The Change4Life campaign advocates that parents give their children ‘100 calorie snacks, two a day max’, but it has been criticised by many in the early years sector who complain that the scheme encourages parents to buy foods that may be low in calories but laden with flavourings, salt and sugar.

Ms Elliott says of the scheme: “The new suggestion of having a 100-calorie snack is misleading and we’ll use a packet of 90 calorie ‘Wotsits’ as an example. Granted it’s only 90 calories, however, it also contains cheese flavour, flavour enhancers, colourings, salt and potassium chloride (a salty flavouring enhancer that extends the shelf life of a product).

Credit: Olesia Bilkei

“Shouldn’t the Government be suggesting that nursery children eat healthy snacks?’

Instead, Ms Elliott advises that vegetables, hummus, rice cakes, malt loaf and fruit are much healthier, nutritionally balanced options.

‘We absolutely believe in desserts!’

In January 2010 Ms Elliott invested in the services of food scientist, Nicky Dexter, and together they have created a range of seasonal menus. The meals they cook are blast frozen to lock in nutrition.

They deliver to nurseries on a weekly basis and place the meals into freezers in date order for the nursery to reheat.

Ms Elliott thinks that they are quite different to other food manufacture companies. She says: “We are quite unique in the nursery food manufacturing world as we have a 4-week rotating menu changed twice a year."

The company also offers what they think is an essential part of a young child’s dinner: pudding. Ms Elliott enthuses: “Each lunch is supported with a proper pudding and we absolutely believe in dessert!"

Recent studies have shown that young children need a certain amount of fat and they also require plenty of carbohydrates for their hectic lifestyle.

As a consequence, Ms Elliott insists that puddings can be a good way of widening the scope for nutrition, provided they don’t contain a high amount of salt, sugar and artificial additives and preservatives. She says: "To provide a balanced meal, our puddings of the day are high in carbs, low in salt, medium in fat and medium in sugar, or if the meal is high in carbs, the dessert will be low in carbs”.

Credit: By Spass

Ms Elliott has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards artificial ‘nasties’ put into children’s food to get the difficult-to-feed age group to eat more. She says: “Our savoury meals are flavoured naturally and are low in salt, natural sugars and carbs. We always provide a balanced and nutritional meal, with no hidden nasties or artificial flavourings”.

The MD also maintains that you don’t need sugars in savoury food, as carrots and parsnips do the job well enough. She says: “You shouldn’t need salt in desserts and palm oil, which is used in a lot of manufactured food, is environmentally damaging.”

“Hidden ingredients to flavour a meal are totally unnecessary because with good ingredients and cooking, the natural taste of the food is enough. And the use of cheap bulking agents containing high amounts of hidden salts and sugars don’t satisfy sufficiently, leading to the need to eat more food.”

Since 30 hours, ‘there has been a noticeable reduction in orders’

Since the ‘30 hours’ scheme was introduced in September 2017, it has been business as usual for Ms Elliott, but she has noticed a slight decline in orders. She explains how things have gotten progressively worse in recent years because nurseries are feeling squeezed.

She says: “We have noticed, especially in the last few years, how nurseries are suffering from budget constraints and as food costs have increased significantly recently, we feel the quality of nursery meals is suffering.

“We’ve also noticed, with the introduction of additional free funding, nursery places are tending to be either am or pm, with neither offering a lunch option, so we’ve noticed a reduction in some nursery’s food orders.”

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