Parents spend so much time and effort choosing the right nursery – visiting the staff, checking out the facilities and the atmosphere. But have you done any research into what your child will be eating while she’s there?
You may be shocked to discover that the legal requirements covering nursery food fall way short of the standards for older children, which means that there are very few restrictions on what your child can be given. For example, chocolate bars can’t be fed to children in primary or secondary schools – but there are no restrictions on chocolate in nurseries. Ditto sweets and crisps.
Recent research carried out by Organix and the Soil Association surveyed 487 nursery workers from England and Wales about the quality of food served, and the results were shocking. It found that some nurseries spend just 25 pence per child on the ingredients for a meal, and that colourings and additives not permitted in manufactured foods for young children were regularly served. Only a quarter of nursery workers said they regularly served water to their children as a drink, and just eight per cent of the nurseries ever served oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, which is rich in a number of nutrients useful for pre-school children.
No funds or training
No one is suggesting that this is the nursery workers’ fault. “They are underfunded, with no training, support or guidelines to work to,” says Anna Rosier, managing director of Organix. “In the report there are also examples of nurseries that provide great food, which the children, parents and nursery workers are engaged in, and where food is enjoyed and celebrated – all within the budget of what parents pay for daily care.”
Call for action
So what’s the answer? “The actions are simple – the Department for Education needs to take responsibility for nursery school food, introducing compulsory nutrient-based standards and a minimum spend,” says Anna. “This can be done; we’ve seen it with school food, why not nursery food?” In the meantime, see the panel below to ensure your child is getting the best food.
Nursery food: the facts
There are no nutrition-based standards to guide nurseries on what they should be serving.There are no exclusions or restrictions on less healthy products, such as crisps, processed meat products, biscuits and fried food.
There are no standards on portion size or fruit and vegetable intake. In contrast, primary and secondary schools must serve no less than two portions of fruit and vegetables per day, per child. There is no ban on sweets.
How to make sure YOUR child eats right:
If your child is already in a nursery, Emma Hockridge from the Soil Association has this suggestion: “Why not ask that your child’s nursery works towards a Food for Life Catering Mark, which has been developed by the Soil Association? This scheme guides organisations through a process to improve the food being served. It has three levels – bronze, silver and gold standard.”If you’re still looking for a nursery for your child, meet with the nursery manager and ask questions about the food they serve. Don’t feel guilty for asking – it’s your right to know what the nursery intends to feed your child. If you feel you’re not getting enough answers from the manager, ask to speak to the cook.