Government launches early years healthy eating drive

By Neil Puffett

| 13 November 2017

Example menus and recipes have been published by government as part of efforts to encourage early years settings to provide healthy meals for young children.

The government wants children in early years settings to get "healthy, balanced and nutritious" meals. Picture: Pre-school Learning Alliance

The resources, jointly developed by the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Public Health England, are designed to offer food and drink in line with current government dietary recommendations for infants and children aged six months to four years old.

They include example menus and useful information for early years settings to help show how they can meet the Early Years Foundation Stage welfare requirement to provide "healthy, balanced and nutritious" meals for children.

Children's minister Robert Goodwill said: "A good early education is vital to set every child on the path to fulfilling their full potential, and getting healthy, balanced food during the day is an important part of high-quality childcare.

"I have seen for myself what an important role caterers and kitchen staff have in the settings I've been able to visit, so I'm pleased that these new resources can now help them in their work."

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: "We are seeing too many starting school overweight, which often leads to long-term health issues.

"This is avoidable, and by using this essential, practical guide, early years practitioners can support young children to learn good food habits, laying the foundations for a healthy future."

However, Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), said some settings may struggle to afford to provide healthy meals due to financial constraints resulting from the introduction of the 30-hour free childcare offer, which came into effect in September.

"Pacey helped to develop the guidance and sample menus because we know our members recognise the importance of good early nutrition and have said they want more help and advice on how to provide this to the children in their care," she said.

"So we are delighted the guidance has finally been issued but recognise it will only go so far in improving children's early nutrition.

"This is because many settings face the implementation challenges of 30 hours of funded childcare. This funding doesn't include the cost of meals and snacks and, whilst some settings are providing these freely, many are having to charge families.

"Some families facing financial constraints could be forced to choose a packed lunch instead, an option that evidence suggests is less nutritious than a regular cooked meal."

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, part of the an expert review group that contributed on the content of the menus, said: "Good nutrition is a vital part of both learning and development, and we are confident that these menus, which were based on a thorough review of early years nutrition and took into account the viewpoints of settings and experts across the sector, will prove welcome additions to the excellent food already being served in the majority of settings.

"These menus will support settings with either practiced chefs or novice cooks and should help providers put quality nutrition at the heart of what they do, something becoming ever more challenging in the current funding climate."

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