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Encouraging healthy eating in the early years

May 24, 2023
5 minute read

In this article, Becky Haynes, Codsall Community Nursery Manager and Early Years Specialist for The Early Years Company, discusses how she encourages healthy eating in her nursery.

Providing a child with a healthy balanced diet is vital for their development. It can help with their overall fitness, repairs and strengthens muscles, helps with sleeping patterns, and lowers their chances of developing any lifelong health conditions, such as diabetes.

It is important for the adults in a child’s life to be good role models when it comes to eating and establishing a healthy relationship with food. If we personally don’t like the taste of something, it is important we don’t allow the child to see that, because then they would be more likely to copy us and choose not to try it. Also, educating children about where their food comes from and the benefits of eating foods like fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat etc will make them more eager to put the right things into their body.

There is more to it than just placing three healthy meals in front of them every day though; sitting with the child during mealtimes can promote better eating habits as you all eat together, they copy you and are less likely to get bored or distracted.

Here at our nursery, we don’t cook our meals on site, however we do have them delivered daily on site, freshly made by NutriFresh. NutriFresh are a childcare catering company who ensure that they are providing nutritional meals for the children who attend not only Codsall Community Nursery, but also to thousands and thousands of children across the midlands. At NutriFresh they put the menus together taking into consideration a variety of meals that cater for different cultural and religious beliefs, different dietary requirements, allergies and dietary preferences. The nursery is asked for regular feedback which is tied into the meeting that contributes to the new choices for the next cycle of menus. This allows us to be able to say what goes well and what doesn’t go well with the children daily.

Mealtimes offer a lot of learning opportunities that can be easily missed if not aware of them. Encouraging a child to get involved with the meal preparation will make them excited to eat the food. Cooking or any kind of food preparation - even growing the fruit or vegetables, can be so much fun and teaches children to be more independent whilst learning about the food they have. As we don’t cook on site here at our nursery, we encourage the children to help prepare snacks that we provide. We also encourage self-serve with the children.

As part of our routine within the setting we encourage conversations about what we eat, what is healthy and unhealthy for us, how meals are made and cooked and so much more; allowing us to make the environment language enriched, exposing the children to new words and vocabulary. This will also allow us to build on the knowledge in which the children already have around healthy eating, while allows us to teach them new facts. For example, a child might already know that an apple is red, and some are green. However, the child might not know that they are good for us, that they grow on trees, that we don’t eat the pips inside and that we can plant those pips to watch it grow into an apple tree; a perfect moment to scaffold their learning.

These teachable moments link into the curriculum here at Codsall Community Nursery. First the children would look at the foods they like or dislike which links into our ‘all about me’ topic work. The children may then look at traditional foods that different cultures eat, and they eat at home, linking to ‘my family’ topic work. Looking at where they buy the food from would link to ‘our community’ and may also explore local farms. The final theme for our curriculum is ‘our world’, this is where the staff and children would look at different foods and traditions from around the world. All these links throughout the curriculum will build upon what the children already know.

As the children move through the nursery with age, it is important that we give children the understanding that if they have an allergy or intolerance, it will make them poorly if they have certain foods. It is good for children without allergies or intolerance to also be aware of this. At our nursery all staff are made aware of these and we also use allergy charts for the staff to have as a visual reminder.

Breakfast is known to be the most important meal of the day. This is because it provides us with our energy to start the day fresh. Research has shown that having a healthy breakfast directly impacts the emotional wellbeing of a child. When a child starts the day right with a healthy breakfast, their concentration levels will be higher, and their mood will instantly be boosted. At our nursery, the children are offered a variety of cereals, toast, and fruit for their breakfast, which is served from 8.00-8.30am.

The children are also provided with a morning snack at 10.00am, a two-course lunch at 11.45am (consisting of a hot main meal and a pudding), and for the children that are attending in the afternoon we have a snack at 2pm and tea at 3.45pm.  

So, it is vitally important that children are given the understanding of healthy foods and a healthy balanced diet, to help them to understand what is good for them and what is not good for them, instilling in them a good relationship with food from a young age. Staff should role model and talk to children about these healthy habits. Here at our nursery we also ensure that these teaching opportunities are threaded through our curriculum and daily routine.

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