Nutritional standards in nurseries: what do parents expect?

According to new survey data released today, 82% of British parents of a child aged 1 to 4 expect their childcare provider to seek expert advice on the latest nutritional guidance for young children.1 What’s more 90% believe it is important that their childcare providers have a good general understanding of young children’s nutritional needs.1

In the recent YouGov survey, parents and carers of children aged one to four rated these nutritional capabilities as more important than various other aspects of nursery life, such as daily handovers (89%), good reports/learning journals given to parents (86%) and good nursery productions and shows (42%).1 They also felt they were more important than nursery facilities such as good reception areas (49%), good facilities for parents e.g. availability of buggy parking (64%) and even proximity to places (e.g. home or work 86%).1

The survey showed little variation in the expectations of families of different social grades when it comes to the food being provided to their children – all parents had high expectations.1

Previous research completed by EYN Partnership found that 79% of childcare providers admit they are not receiving external nutrition advice.2

Melanie Pilcher, Quality and Standards Manager at the Early Years Alliance added:

“What I want settings to realise is that nutrition is the bedrock to delivery of the EYFS. A well-nourished child will have a better physical, educational, social and emotional development journey through the early years system. These survey results show us that there is a golden opportunity for settings to partner with parents and engage them in enhancing food and mealtimes both at the setting and at home too.”

According to the National Child Measurement Programme, almost a quarter (23.4%) of children starting reception are not a healthy weight, being either overweight, obese, severely obese, or underweight.3 Other health concerns that can be related to diet include tooth decay, an entirely preventable concern that impacts 31 to 41% of five-year olds.4

In 2015, the Royal Society for Public Health recommended that nursery practitioners should have health-based conversations with parents, however the RSPH report Tackling the UK’s Childhood Obesity Epidemic noted that practitioners may lack confidence when it comes to raising sensitive issues regarding lifestyles in their work with young families.5

Stacey Bailer, Regional Quality Manager at Fennies, a nursery chain operating across South West London, Surrey and Sussex, that is working with the Early Years Nutrition Partnership said:

“We want our practitioners to be able to support parents further in their understanding of the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet and direct them to the expert evidence led advice we will receive as a result of working with EYNP.

We hope other nursery chains will join the EYNP movement as it is so beneficial for continuing professional development and most importantly to enhance outcomes for children. As childcare providers we believe we have a key role to play in introducing children to a wide variety of foods and establishing a pattern of regular meals and healthy snacks. Focusing on nutrition supports us in delivering the EYFS in a variety of ways as it helps children’s personal development and welfare.”

June O’Sullivan MBE, EYN Partnership Board Member and Chief Executive of the London Early Years Foundation said:

“The childhood obesity epidemic in this country is a national scandal, and so far Government responses have fallen far short. To my mind, it is now up to us as a sector to take action on this ourselves. Every single setting needs to be taking action to upskill their team and to make sure in particular that chefs are trained. Parents are trusting us to get this right. At LEYF we take this incredibly seriously and that is why we are engaging with the Early Years Nutrition Partnership. I’m calling on every other setting to show similar commitment and do the same. If we are not prepared to act now the consequences for the nation’s health will be dire.” 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 10,942 adults, of which 800 were parents of children aged 1 to 4. Only those parents with children aged 1-4 were able to answer the questions within the survey, and only those using formalised childcare answered the questions regarding standards. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st August - 6th September 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[1] YouGov, Public Survey ‘Childcare Providers and Nutrition’. Published 7th September 2018.

[2] National Survey on Early Years Nutrition 2016. The Early Years Alliance and the London Early Years Foundation. EYN Partnership: A Collection of Views from Partners. May 2016. Available at:

[3] Health and Social Care Information Centre. National Child Measurement Programme – England, 2017-18 report. Available at:

[4] State of Child Health. Early Years Indicators. Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Available at:

[5] Tackling the UK’s childhood obesity epidemic. Royal Society for Public Health.