Healthy Eating – Fit For Life! by Verity Welch

1st June 2017

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By Verity Welch, Head of the International Early Years Curriculum

As a child who grew up with a mouth full of liquorice pipes and sweet cigarettes, I’m from the era when healthy snacks for children consisted of watching cartoons featuring Popeye eating spinach.

But while my attitude has changed there’s still plenty of contradictory information for parents to digest. For example, I remember one morning having to speak to a parent whose child came into nursery sucking on what appeared to be Cola from her feeding bottle.

“That’s not an acceptable breakfast,” I told her. “Do you know how much sugar is in that bottle?”
“Hardly any,” she seriously replied, “it’s black coffee!”

A few years ago whilst visiting a nursery I was told about an initiative where parents were asked to contribute to a newly developed snack table. The nursery was providing apples and bananas but wanted parents to add to the variety of the available produce. Unfortunately, the enthusiastic parents took this as the opportunity to bring in enormous cakes, decorated biscuits and a bowl of chicken nuggets – they were literally thinking out of the box! The Practitioner had to explain that they were just hoping for the odd pineapple or mango.

But there is an increased focus on children’s nutrition. This May, I had the pleasure of attending a food workshop in London. I watched Chef Emma, Catering Manager for Clockwork Childcare, quickly prepare a very tasty spiced chicken and sweet potato stew. As she cooked, she shared ideas to support families and children in developing their understanding of nutrition. These included exciting recipes, trips to kitchens, food tasting and getting children to eat their way through the ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ story. Her nursery’s innovative approach to healthy eating even encompasses offering healthy takeaways to busy parents.

About three years ago I spoke to a dietitian from the local authority ‘Health and Well-Being’ team. She suggested treating snack time as another fantastic learning opportunity rather than an inconvenience during the day. In particular, she advised:

1. Sit down with the children in small groups.

2. Have a choice of food available at each snack time. Think about the different textures, colours and general presentation of the food.

3. Where possible offer small knives for children to spread or cut.

4. Create a pleasant eating snack area. Sometimes this could be outside or in a corner of the room. Use props such as tablecloths and decorations to make the table cosy.

5. Space snacks between meals appropriately. Children have small stomachs and high energy demands, they should, therefore, have something to eat every one and a half to three hours.

We should continually reflect on our approaches to healthy eating in early years. Gone are the days when children waited at empty tables for over 30 minutes to be served a glass of warm orange squash and a chocolate digestive. This developed in the early 2000’s into “Free flow snack area”, where children could help themselves at any time of the day to snacks. Obviously, as the day went on less and less children dashed in take pre-cut fruit from these bowls as they turned unappealingly brown.

So enjoy sitting at the table when possible. It’s not often we have chance in early years to sit still for five minutes. Encourage good conversations, support the social aspect of food and enable children to prepare their own snacks. The healthy eating ethos can be taken even further by developing your own indoor and/or outdoor vegetable patch. All this is making me feel hungry so I’m off to cook Emma’s chicken, potato and lentil stew!

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