Early years nutrition in nurseries and pre-schools: Why hands-on help is the key to real change

Catherine Lippe, EYN Partnership Registered Nutritionist

Since I graduated over 12 years ago my passion for early years nutrition has continued to grow. It’s an area that both fascinates and interests me and I am a firm believer that every child should have access to nutritious, appealing and affordable food. This should be the norm and not just the ideal.  

I’ve been working for the Early Years Nutrition (EYN) Partnership since May 2016 and I’m working in South West London, Surrey and neighbouring counties with some fantastic nurseries. It has been fascinating to see the passion and enthusiasm that settings already have for good nutrition and a lot of them have some great initiatives already in place. I’ve seen settings who have their own allotment and others who grow herbs on their windowsills. What’s clear is that, whatever resources they have, food and nutrition is on their agenda somewhere.

Changing lives, changing futures
The EYN Partnership is a fantastic social enterprise scheme that has real potential to change the future health of a generation. Research tells us that the nutrition a child receives in their early years can affect the way they grow and learn not just now but for their entire life. This means there is a crucial window of opportunity for intervention that we need to be making the most of. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve worked within early years’ settings. I previously spent six years working as a community nutritionist for the NHS in East London where I was supporting nurseries and early years’ settings to improve the nutritional content of their menus and developed and delivered training for early years teams and health professionals. I worked with over 50 settings and we had great success. The difference is that my role there was Government funded. Now of course, we are operating in a different landscape with very little funding for schemes like this. It’s a real shame to see how these services have diminished over recent years when they are still so needed. Childhood obesity remains a major health concern and we know that children are consuming too much sugar and some do not have enough key micronutrients. The problems aren’t going away but times of austerity mean that the services working to tackle these problems are inevitably becoming few and far between.

Hands-on help works
In East London we were able to support the early year’s practitioners in making positive changes to their menus that were in keeping with the demographics of their families. By tailoring the support to each individual setting it works and is both more achievable and more sustainable for the setting. Not only that but by being physically present in the setting I had a great opportunity to get to know each setting individually and to gain an understanding of the issues they are dealing with on a day to day basis. By building a relationship with the settings I was also able to reach the parents and families and support them with nutrition advice where it was needed. A service that they otherwise might not have benefitted from.

Making a difference
When I heard about the EYN Partnership I knew I wanted to be involved. Its model is similar. It provides hands on help and allows me to get to know each setting and build a rapport with both them and their families. It represents a partnership between the British Nutrition Foundation and the Early Years Alliance, with seed funding from the private sector company Danone.

In my view, if Government funding is not forthcoming, then social enterprise models like the EYN Partnership are an ideal way of supporting early years’ settings without burdening government funding and limited public health resources. Of course it is important that these schemes have robust governance structures, and the EYN Partnership definitely does, so settings can be reassured that the advice they are given is evidence-based, impartial and up to date.

I’m proud to be part of this. I think it will make a real change within early years settings and give them the confidence and skills to raise standards of nutrition in order to benefit the children they care for, and the families they support.

 

Catherine Lippe is a Registered Nutritionist based in Surrey, specialising in paediatric and maternal nutrition. Catherine has over 10 years’ experience working in both the public and private sector. She has previously worked as a Community Nutritionist for the NHS and has experience of working with over 55 Early Years settings across the London borough of Newham, supporting settings to improve all aspects of their food provision and eating environment.