All eleven of Fennies nurseries are accredited with the Early Years Nutrition Partnership and we are delighted to share this Q&A with Registered Nutritionist, Janet Aylott.
- Why do you serve puddings at nursery – I don’t normally give my child pudding at home because I’m worried about giving them too much sugar?
Offering children two courses at mealtimes allows multiple opportunities for them to gain good nutrition. Under 5s only have small tummies so giving them two small portions of different foods, rather than one larger portion of the main course allows us to increase the range of nutrients, textures and tastes that they are experiencing. It also helps to prevent a hierarchy of food likes and dislikes by putting all food on a level playing field whether it is savoury or sweet. Food should never be used as a treat or a punishment, and the same applies to pudding. Offering pudding whether a child has eaten their main course or not, without any fuss, tells the child that there is nothing ‘special’ about pudding, and that its just another course that they can enjoy whatever happens with the main meal. At Fennies all our menus are accredited with EYNP and we follow strict criteria to ensure that all the food we serve fits within the guidelines. Our puddings are varied, and more often that not, are based on fresh fruit. Where homemade puddings such as cakes and biscuits are offered, these all contain fruit or vegetables e.g. chocolate and beetroot cake or fruity raisin cookies and are usually served with a dairy side such as yogurt or crème fraiche. Added sugar is kept to a minimum.
- My child is really fussy at home and won’t eat the foods I cook, or even meals like they have at nursery – why do they eat the meals at nursery, and what can I do to encourage them to eat meals at home?
Pre-schoolers and toddlers are very often guided by the actions of those around them. At nursery we all sit together to eat our meals, and children are encouraged to be independent in serving themselves and in helping others. We talk about the food that we are serving and encourage the children to try everything that is on offer. Food is never forced upon children who refuse, but we praise those that try. The home environment can be very different for the children – plates and cutlery might not be the right size, and as parents we often ‘dish up’ large portions that we would expect a child to eat, rather than the size that they can maybe manage. Invest in some smaller plates and cutlery and encourage your child to help set the table and to serve themselves wherever possible. Try not to make an issue out of mealtimes – if your child refuses a meal, encourage them to try but if they don’t just remove the plate and offer pudding without fuss. If other children in the family are good eaters, praise them openly.
- How regularly should we expose children to new foods and encourage them to taste different food at home?
Young children are like sponges and are always open to new experiences and opportunities! Try a new food every few days if it is possible and eat together as a family if you can. Often a child will want to try what Mummy and Daddy are having, rather than eating a meal just for them. Use stickers and reward charts to record when they try new foods, and whether they like them or not. And remember it can take up to 10 exposures to a new taste for the tastebuds to get used to it so don’t give up after one or two attempts!
- What is the appropriate amount of sweet treats children should have?
There is no right or wrong way when it comes to giving treats to your children, however it is important to try not to make foods high in sugar, salt or fat a ‘forbidden fruit’. Allowing your child to have some access to these ‘treat’ foods will help them to include them as part of an overall healthy and balanced diet. Completely ruling out these foods can mean that they become the food that the child desperately wants which can cause issues later in life.
It is best to limit foods higher in sugar to mealtimes, rather than offer them as a snack, to support good dental practice. So a small amount of chocolate or sweets after a meal is fine, but stick to more savoury snacks or fruit at snacktime.
- What is the difference between organic and standard foods and how can this be beneficial to children?
Organic foods are produced without pesticides and comply with standards of organic farming. This can mean that the produce is fresher. In the UK, however, there are strict regulations relating to the levels of pesticides permitted in non-organic farming, and therefore levels are very low in general produce.
There are no proven nutritional benefits of choosing organic food, so it is down to personal choice based on other factors such as the environment.
- Are there any substitutes that can be provided for children with intolerances in the nursery?
Fennies has a strict policy on special dietary requirements, and where a child has been medically diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance, the manager and chef will work with the parent to ensure the safety of any food that the child is exposed to in the nursery, and suitable alternatives will be supplied.
- If my child has a food intolerance how can I ensure that they are getting a nutritionally balanced diet?
Depending on the type of intolerance, and the change required from the standard nursery menu, our chefs are able to provide suitable alternative dishes. Where multiple allergies or intolerance mean the child requires a very restricted diet, we will discuss requirements with our Registered Nutritionist or the wider healthcare support team.
- How can parents incorporate cooking into learning opportunities or activities at home?
Children can start to be involved in cooking activities at a very young age. Within the nursery we regularly do cooking activities with the children including smoothie making, chopping fruit to make kebabs and mixing cakes and biscuits for special events. Food role play is also an integral part of learning so activities like going to the supermarket, playing shops at home or using food for art can be a great way to encourage children to talk about food. There are lots of ideas for cooking with pre-schoolers on https://www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/3-5-years/activity-packs/food-based-sessions/
- What are the benefits of involving children in the process of cooking and learning about nutrition from an early age?
The benefits of involving children in cooking and learning about nutrition are boundless! If children are able to understand where their food comes from, how it feels, what it can be made into and most importantly how it tastes, it will set them up on a journey of curiosity. Food based learning activities can incorporate so many other areas of the curriculum too – counting, vocabulary, reading, history, geography, caring for others…….the list is endless!
10. How can parents create healthy mealtime routines?
Have a routine. Just as you have a bedtime routine it’s just as important to do the same for mealtimes. Encouraging your child to wash their hands and coming to sit at the table means that you are setting expectations and ring fencing the mealtime rather than letting it be part of a play routine for example.
Limit your own distractions – turn off the TV, put phones and tablets away. It can be hugely tempting to check phones at the table but if there’s a house rule of ‘phones away at mealtimes’ you might find everyone is much better at focusing on the meal and each other.
Get them involved – kids love helping themselves at the table. It makes them feel grown up. Why not have some meals where the whole family serve themselves at the table rather than ‘dishing up” in the kitchen? Your little ones are much more likely to pick up some vegetables if they see everyone else doing the same. And don’t worry if they don’t actually eat it, remember most children need a little bit of investigation first whether it be touching, feeling, licking, smelling (and sometimes throwing!).
Don’t forget to also set a good example with drinks at mealtimes. Again, maybe having a big jug of iced tap water at the table that you all help yourself to (with help for the smaller ones of course but hey what’s a bit of spilled water between friends?!)
Limit mealtimes to around 30 minutes. Keeping mealtimes short will reduce the risk of children losing interest and becoming distracted. If a child hasn’t eaten much during the first 20-30 minutes of the mealtime, they are not likely to. Instead of embarking on lengthy mealtime negotiations, remove the food, offer a small helping of pudding and move on.
Remember what is normal – preference for different colours, tastes, textures, wanting to feed themselves, good days, bad days, sudden dislike for previously liked foods are all perfectly normal for a toddler, so try not to despair if their behavior seems baffling! Take a deep breath and remember this is normal behaviour for young children!
You can find out more about The Early Years Nutrition Partnership via our website and social media:
Facebook: The Early Years Nutrition Partnership
If you have a question or comment for the Registered Nutrition Professional (RNP) who is working directly with your nursery then please ask your nursery manager for their email address or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your RNP may be able to deliver a talk/workshop or attend a parent event at your child’s nursery. Should you wish to learn more about good nutrition in the early years, or if you have specific questions about the EYNP, we encourage you to speak to your nursery manager about the possibility of meeting your RNP via a healthy eating event.