Back in 2007 Lizzie Vann* founder of Organix, the original UK organic babyfood manufacturer, started the first national Nursery Food Awards. Along with Lizzie, Jeanette Orrey and Liz Roberts, Editor of NurseryWorld Magazine. I was also invited to judge the awards.
My first daughter was just under a year at the time and I had been looking for a nursery for her so knew how much food quality could vary.
Organix and the Soil Association launch The Nursery Food Report
Following on from the awards, in 2008 Organix and the Soil Association published their ground breaking Nursery Food Report.** At the time, statutory food and nutrition standards were being introduced in primary and secondary schools, while government nursery food guidance was vague. Two key findings from the report were:
➣ Foods not permitted or heavily restricted in state primary and secondary schools, including biscuits, crisps, chocolate, lollies, sweets, cakes, burgers and chips could and were being served up to children in nurseries.
➣The amount spent on food varied widely with one nursery spending a paltry 25p per head.
Without clear guidance (like those set in state schools) quality of food provision was variable.
After publishing the report, Organix and the Soil Association launched Better Nursery Food Now campaign, calling for statutory food and nutrition standards to be introduced in nurseries to bring them in line with primary and secondary schools.
Early years nutrition standards and food guidance
In 2006 Caroline Walker Trust*** (CWT) published the second edition of their Nutritional guidelines for under 5s in childcare (written by Dr Helen Crawley). Nurseries could develop and analyse their menus in Nutmeg software to make sure they met the standards. These were the first clear evidence-based nutrition standards for nurseries.
CWT then further developed their guidance, in 2010, publishing the excellent CHEW : Eating well for 1-4 year olds practical guidance and Eating Well for the first year of life. Both publications provided practical guidance including portion sizes and recipes for childminders, nurseries and parents on what foods under 5’s should eat to meet their nutritional needs.
Two years later an expert advisory panel (including Dr Helen Crawley) appointed by the School Food Trust (now the Children’s Food Trust), commissioned by government, developed and tested Food and drink guidance for Early Years.
NurseryWorld Food Awards
In 2009 NurseryWorld Magazine incorporated the Nursery Food Award into their Annual Awards. Again, I was lucky to be asked to help judge the award, and have done so, since then.
The winner in 2009 was Red Hens Day Nursery. It is unique, being set on a farm in Lincolnshire run by Jane Harrison and her husband, David. Children at the nursery bake every day as part of their routine as they would if they were at home, they pick fruit and veg from the garden for mealtimes and take part in all sorts of food-related activities. The nursery was also a finalist in last year’s BBC Food And farming awards for their Public Sector Catering Award.
Since 2010 Jane Harrison has helped judge the NurseryWorld Food Award.
Last year’s award was the first following on from the new early years food guidance. The winning nursery, Snapdragons and shortlisted nurseries were implementing the new guidance, which was great to see.
10 Steps to First Class Early Years Food
In 2012 and following on from last year’s judging, Jane and I wrote a piece for NurseryWorld Magazine called 10 steps to first class early years food provision. We wanted to give some direction (albeit under 1000 words) for nurseries who needed to improve their food provision.
NurseryWorld Food Award 2013
As I am on maternity leave, Diana Hawdon has kindly agreed to help judge the NurseryWorld Food Award. Diana is a Registered Dietician and Public Health Nutritionist. Shortlisted nurseries have been announced and we will find out who the winner is on 28 September (blog post to follow).
The future of Nursery food
With the spotlight on fees, whilst incomes stagnate and food prices increase, it’s not an easy time for nurseries.
I am very aware that those that enter the Food Awards are the best of the best. Staff are always engaged in the good food ethos and are rightly proud of their work. What we don’t and won’t see however, are the nurseries that don’t serve good food. While the food guidance which was published last year is excellent, and will be of great help for those that are engaged, it is very likely that there are providers that will ignore them.
Having looked for nurseries in my local area, I know what a lottery it can be (the only nursery that provided organic food had a 2 year waiting list). The one nursery that had places straight away regularly used a deep fat fryer. And of course the nursery serving organic food was much more expensive than the latter.
The current government’s approach is all about championing best practice, which is great but but what it doesn’t take into account is that can only be achieved in nurseries where there is an active interest and engagement with good food. This is why we need statutory standards so that all children wherever they go to nursery, get to eat tasty, nutritious food that meets their dietary needs. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, in the near future at least …
*Lizzie Vann has been a pioneering campaigner on children’s nutrition issues and food quality. She helped to set up the Soil Association’s very successful Food For Life initiative.
**Written and researched by Catherine Fookes, assisted by Emma Hockridge and Joanna Quinn and with nutrition advice and information contributed by myself.
***Caroline Walker Trust is a charity dedicated to the improvement of public health through good food. It was established in 1988 to continue the work of the distinguished nutritionist, writer and campaigner Caroline Walker. A major part of their work is to produce expert reports which establish nutritional guidelines for vulnerable groups – including children and older people. Much of these standards have been devised by Dr Helen Crawley and in turn these standards have fed into the nutrition standards and guidance set by government.