My thoughts on School Food Trust Food and Drink guidance for Early Years

Congratulations to the School Food Trust on their excellent food and drink guidance for Early Years Settings in England which they published today.

The guidance is comprehensive and very detailed. It is bound to be a great support to childminders and nursery providers and parents too. The portion size guidance is essential – this is something a lot of parents and nurseries aren’t sure about. The portion sizes photographic guidance is drawn from the wonderful Caroline Walker Trust (CWT) Chew!resource.

Some nursery’s I have visited previously provide higher sugar breakfast cereals because they are promoted as high in fibre. While this is true, the high sugar content means they are similar nutritionally to biscuits. So this guidance will help ensure that low sugar breakfast cereals are bought. The guidance advises to choose a breakfast cereal that is low or medium sugar (5g or 5-15g per 100g).

There is iron and zinc guidance is also great, as these are two minerals that children’s diets can be deficient in.

There is also good advice on drinks: advising only water and milk between meals and diluted fruit juice at meal times. While completely avoiding squash and juice drinks. Also that they recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners is good news

That the standards reflect public health recommendations indicates that School Food Trust has not given in to any possible industry lobbying.

Also recommending (in line with CWT) that dried fruit just be given at meal times to protect teeth. I have come across nurseries and parents who give raisins as a snack so nurseries, childminders and parents have clear guidance on this now.

I have sometimes seen nurseries not providing enough variety for vegetarian and vegan children (serving textured protein daily). So its good they have recommended a variety of meat alternatives and beans and lentils for vegetarian and vegan children.

The guidance has a great checklist for nurseries and childminders to improve provision. As well as information on putting together a food policy – an indicator of good food provision.

The seasonal menu guidance is very good (though I need to read more of it).

There are plans, mentioned on the website to roll out training for providers, which sounds good, looking forward to hearing more about this.

These guidelines will be followed by all good providers. It isn’t clear how they are going to be promoted to raise awareness and monitored to ensure adherence.

In my line of work I am lucky enough to see excellent providers in action. I have heard of poor food provision though – but don’t get invited to visit these nurseries.

We need these guidelines to be statutory, like the school food standards, to provide a safety net so that ALL children attend a nursery or go to a childminder where the food provision meets these “guidelines”. In short they need to be “standards” rather than “guidelines”.

Obviously in the current economic climate this is unlikely to happen and it seems a missed opportunity to me that the most crucial age in a child’s development is not protected by law. And while the lack of nutrition standards in academies is undermining school standards, they are still in place for state schools run by Local Authorities.

When I was looking for a nursery for my daughter, the lovely one with the organic food was oversubscribed with a waiting list of 2 years. The only nurseries that had places were either serving sugary puddings for babies or deep frying chips. Some would argue that you can ask for your child to be given something else, or choose another nursery. In reply to the former – I would want my child to be part of a good eating experience, and not have to feel different to the other children. Secondly, it is a bit of a lottery with regard to nurseries and what’s available in your area. That choice is further reduced if you are on a low income.

I had to wait for a place at the nursery with the right food. But I am lucky because I work from home and am freelance.

If you are a parent, looking for a good nursery or childminder, check to see if they are following these standards. Also ask questions such those on page 81 of the Nursery Food Report: Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie.

It would also be great to see this guidance further extended to include provision for babies attending nurseries and childminder’s too.


Grow your own blueberries

These two little bare plants may not look very inspiring, but they are. Have put my money where my mouth is and bought a couple of local blueberry bushes from Trehane Nursery. These are 3-4 year old, and they might even give me some blueberries this year!

Lorraine at Trehane’s recommended I buy two, as while most blueberries are self fertile to an extent, some are not and all varieties produce better and more fruit if you cross pollinate between two different types.

So I have bought a Bluecrop which produces big and sweet fruit and should be ready for harvesting from the beginning of July. And a Chandler, which has similar fruit, and is a late harvester. Both produce heavy crops – great! She helped me choose two good plants that had lots of buds. They were £20 the pair (they are on special offer at the moment). You can buy them by mail order online or call Trehane’s Direct.

Apparently Grandfather Trehane was the first person to grow blueberries in the UK, in 1957 he sent his daughter, Jennifer, a telegram which simply read “1000 blueberries arriving Queen Mary, Southampton. How about it?” He was 1 of 4 people who responded to an offer from a parson in Lulu Island, British Columbia, Canada offering 100 blueberry plants for free to anyone in the UK.

I briefly met Jennifer when I visited the nursery, and as you would expect, she is very knowledgeable about her subject. She was expecting visitors from Devon who she was to advise on pruning. She has written two books on blueberries. One for the horticulturist, and one for me: “Blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries for everyone”. The Trehane website also has free advice on pruning.

Blueberries grow easily and well in tubs using ericaceous compost – or in acidic sandy soil.

The nursery has rows and rows of blueberry bushes to pick your own from in the summer.

In the meantime I bought 500g of Trehane blueberries for £4.

Can there be a better way to support local producers, and eat locally?

My blueberry plants will go in pots so that when we move they will come with us.

This is my new years resolution: to learn how to tend, grow and not kill my two new blueberry plants.

O and just in case you missed my plug for Trehane Nursery…

Right, am off to find out what Lingonberries are and um, ericaceous compost…

My antidote to New Year detox: A Morning Knickerbocker Glory

New year, new you?!

Don’t believe the hype, don’t do the detox. If you are anything like me you ran around in the weeks leading up to Christmas working, buying, searching on websites for that “must-have” present, sending Christmas cards, making costumes, deciding on whether to buy turkey or goose, comforting overtired children and planning blog posts that never materialised.

Then Christmas came, if you spent it with family, that brings with it all that wonderful mayhem and madness. Followed by New Year, another gorgeous gathering with delicious food and drink. Then last week, the kids went back at school and according to all the papers and media you are expected to have healthy new resolutions and go on a detox and/or exercise regime of some sort.

Now hang on a minute. You have just spent a month running around like crazy and suddenly because the decks are clear (if you have done your tax?!) you have to focus on a new project – your health! My advice? Don’t go on a regime of any sort. Being healthy is about moderation (generally) all year round. Not yo-yoing between over and underconsumption.

Forget the detox. And don’t feel guilty about it. Be kind to yourself. Make a fresh juice or smoothie daily. Make sure you hare getting your vitamin D (more on that in another post). Ease yourself back into the exercise gradually and if you want that cake *whispers* have it! Give your body and mind time to recoup after the christmas madness. Sleep, eat well and care for the carer. And when you are ready, yes go on a diet if you want to loose a few kilos and definitely get into exercise. For now even if its a short run or a walk for that matter, its all going in the right direction.

Make a mental note of how much fruit and veg you’ve had today. Think of ways to increase this tomorrow.

But don’t beat yourself up for what you aren’t doing, give yourself a pat on the back for what you ARE doing.

My favourite seasonal juice right now is 2-3 carrots, 1-2 apples, 2 oranges, some ginger and a chunk of lemon. This is my breakfast in the chaos of the weekday morning.

If I have a little more time and I want a proper breakfast I make a Morning Knickerbocker Glory. It can keep you going ’til lunchtime and doesn’t take long to make either. If you get hungry in between – snack on some fruit and/or veg.

Apples are in season at the moment but I am missing blueberries and have found a local company, called Trehane that grows them locally and sells them frozen all year round, you can even go and pick your own in the Summer. I checked with my local supermarket and their frozen blueberries are from Chile so are off limits, unless the packaging states that they are grown in the UK, its unlikely that they are.

If you can remember to in the Summer, its worth freezing blueberries or other soft fruit for a Winter treat.

You can make the granola on a Sunday night, its easy, and will last a few weeks.

For the Granola

115g jumbo oats
115g spelt porridge oats (if you can’t find spelt use porridge oats)
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
50g hazelnuts roasted (or pecans)
30g almonds chopped
50g maple syrup (most recipes use honey but maple syrup is lower in sugar)
50ml sunflower oil

Pre-heat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas mark 1.

Mix all the ingredients together and put on a baking tray and bake for 50 minutes.

To make your fruit compote with berries (about 100g), just put in a shallow saucepan and heat through until all are defrosted and warm and going a bit like a Jam.

If you are stewing apples, peel, core and slice, and put in a saucepan with a little water and maybe a handful of raisins or sultanas. When they are cooked through drain, and mix with a pinch of cinnamon

Then create layers of fruit, granola and low fat organic yogurt (greek yogurt is great for young kids, but it’s high in saturated fat – so save it for puddings rather than an everyday meal like breakfast). You want about 50g of granola and about 120g of low fat yogurt.