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.

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