At the Early Years Alliance we have always known that nutrition is an important part of a child’s overall health and development. We, like many others in the sector, have been frustrated that there is a lack of good information available to settings to help guide their approach to nutrition. In 2016 we joined the Early Years Nutrition Partnership, in order to contribute to a solution, and we remain proud of our involvement in this social enterprise that provides settings with support from a dedicated nutritionist or dietitian, to help them in navigating the complex nutrition environment.
It is very easy to underestimate the importance of good nutrition in the early years. The food a young child consumes has an impact on their physical, social, educational and emotional development. A hungry child can’t even begin to learn and thrive in a setting, and a child who doesn’t feel good about themselves will also suffer. It’s really important that settings look at food and nutrition properly if they are to deliver against the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
Working in partnership with parents and carers is also central to the EYFS. While you may think the need to consult with parents is focused on maximising learning, a strong setting-parent relationship can also be built around a shared journey towards better nutrition. Ideally, children will eat well in their setting and at home, and if standards can be raised in both, many children will get off to a much brighter start. Plenty of parents are actively looking for help and guidance with nutrition from the practitioners at their child’s setting, others will be in need of help but may not recognise it.
There are lots of opportunities to work closely with parents around food and nutrition. There are numerous little things that parents need to know or want to know on a day to day basis that show us that there is scope for partnership. If you are updating parents daily about what their children eat you are probably already fielding questions about what kind of melon a child enjoyed, how they took to scrambled eggs, and how they were encouraged to eat their greens! It feels good to give parents advice in this way – but imagine how much better it would be to give advice about food groups, portion sizes, nutrients and picky eating, knowing that you are providing solid, evidence-based recommendations. The face to face training provided as part of EYNP, along with options for CACHE-endorsed Level 3 training for practitioners and Level 2 training for chefs make this possible.
I think it is all too easy for practitioners to feel that nutrition comes a long way down the priority list of things they can improve about their setting. But this simply isn’t true. It really should be top of the list. Good nutrition can be the foundation of a good day in a setting, allowing a child to learn, socialise, exercise, play and generally thrive with their caregivers and peers. And precisely because it is so important, it shouldn’t be something practitioners should have to figure out for themselves when expert help is available. It’s a nutrition information minefield out there – and you can help yourselves and your parents navigate it by calling in the professional nutritionists and dietitians of the EYNP! Ultimately, not only will it help your business to do so, but it will significantly benefit the children you are being entrusted to look after, and give them the best chance of a healthy future.