New guidelines for school dinners, designed to tackle poor health and obesity, are not being applied to nurseries, according to a damning study.
It found some private establishments are spending the “pitiful” sum of just 25p per child per day on food.
Others are serving up meals which contain artificial colours and chemicals, despite laws which ban the sale of such foods to children under three.
The report, Georgie Porgie Pudding And Pie: Exposing the Truth About Nursery Food, is based on a poll of 1,772 parents whose children attend nursery and 487 nursery employees.
The report said: “Some nurseries are regularly serving food that is not permitted or heavily restricted in primary and secondary schools, including crisps, chocolate, lollies, sweets, cakes, biscuits, burgers and chips.”
It found some nurseries are serving food that contains additives – such as Monosodium Glutamate (E621) – that are banned from manufactured foods sold to under-threes.
Some 82% of staff and 85% of parents want clearer and more effective standards for nursery school food.
Such standards already apply to primary and secondary schools, and to nurseries in Italy, France, Austria and Denmark.
The report was commissioned by campaign group, the Soil Association, and the food company, Organix, which are calling on the Government to set mandatory standards for nursery meals.