Our mission from the very start when we established Charlton has been to prepare the best possible food for our children. We have always put a huge emphasis on fresh and organic produce. We were actually looking into what changes we could make to improve our menus at the nursery when coincidently Alison Preston, an EYN Partnership Registered Nutritionist approached us, so it was perfect timing, and almost as though it was meant to be!
When we went through our menus with Alison we learned that despite using all organic ingredients our dishes were quite high in sugar, butter and saturated fats and our variety of starchy carbs was lacking. We also came to see that the old menus were a bit repetitive and were not particularly varied. We thought we were doing really well, but in reality, there were a few problems which we would never have realised had we not gone through that process with Alison.
Something that we wanted to tackle straight away was reducing the amount of sugar in our menus. Our menu offers a pudding after lunch and tea each day and only one of these puddings now contain minimal levels of sugar, the other pudding will contain all-natural sugars and is either fruit or milk based. This feels like a really big difference, and we canhonestly say we havenoticed a positive difference in the children’s behaviour!
Alison has passed on a wealth of nutrition knowledge and really opened our eyes to the variety and balance we can bring to our menus. Alison gave us really useful ideas on getting the proportions of our food right and helped us switch to all ‘brown’ – so changing our white pasta and white rice to brown pasta and rice. With her help we now have a much better range of foods and we’ve introduced more ingredients like lentils and beans and also included a lot more vegetarian options and fish dishes. The children are big fans of our cod curry and mackerel fishcakes!
At the start of the journey some of our parents were a bit reluctant to see us change the menu and were very wary about the different foods we were introducing. Initially we received a few emails from parents that assumed the children were going hungry and not eating the ‘new’ foods at all! That was quite challenging, but we knew we had to stick with our objective and felt that with Alison’s help we would be able to reassure parents. To start with we rolled out two four-week plans which gave us eight weeks to get a thorough overview of how the children were adapting to the menus and whether they liked the new recipes or not. It turned out to be quite the opposite of those original parent fears, the children really loved having new taste experiences and the adjustments we had to make were minor in the end.
Changes were much easier to make once we had knowledge and advice from Alison. We made a big effort to introduce new foods in a very positive way to children and this has had a big impact. Alison also helped us indealing with fussy eaters by getting the non-fussy children to sit with them to provide encouragement and to create a positive eating environment all round. We’ve put a big emphasis on children eating together with the staff in a friendly environment and we serve the food in china bowls, just like the adults, which they love!
We invited the parents in for an evening where our chef prepared the food from the menus for them to try for themselves. The feedback from this was really positive and it gave the parents an opportunity to see for themselves what we were giving the children to eat. We now even get requests from the parents to send them the recipes and we have heard that they have introduced some of the dishes at home!
We have our own vegetable patch and have found that this is an amazing resource for the children to learn how vegetables and fruit grow. We have a small chicken hatchery and the children just love going out and collecting the eggs. We also hold cookery classes to teach the children how to cook which is great fun.
So far, our chef has completed the Level 2 CACHE award unit – ‘Preparing meals to meet current nutritional standards in an early years setting’ and she said she felt it was a great opportunity and of massive benefit. Our manager has completed the Level 3 CACHE award unit – ‘Promote nutrition and hydration in early years and childcare settings’ and our deputy manager has nearly completed the course. Our manager said that even though it was sometimes hard to find time to do the coursework she felt really determined to complete it as she was so motivated because it was really interesting and helpful. All of our ‘learners’ have all been able to share their knowledge and that’s a great resource for the rest of the team.
Being on board with EYNP gives an assurance to parents that we are giving the children the very best possible experience. It’s been brilliant to demonstrate to parents that by working with the EYNP we were getting expert nutrition advice and could guarantee a balanced menu for the children, as well as an all-round positive approach to food. We are really looking forward to progressing to advanced level in the near future!