A short history of the Nursery Food Awards

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.

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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.


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.