Jacqueline Offer, Owner, Sunbeams Day Nursery, Bristol
My original training was as a Home Economics teacher a long time ago, so I’ve always had a passion for food and nutrition. I also taught Child Development GCSE for many years giving me a strong appreciation of how important early years nutrition is.
We are an independent setting which I founded whilst I was still teaching, so it’s my baby really. My interest in healthy eating is what prompted me to lead the way with joining the EYNP. It’s a passion of mine. I believe our role in early years is really important, to make sure that healthy approaches to food and drink and good habits are instilled from an early age.
I tried to do that with my own children, and I feel that I have a responsibility to do it with my business too.
I’ve always been a bit irritated about the lack of regulation and guidance on healthy eating over the years as I do think it is vital for early years settings. When it comes to healthy eating early years settings were on their own for a long time.
Sound guidance was published by South Gloucestershire (Council?) a few years ago. After training on this I carried out an audit of our menu and was pleased to find out we were already doing a lot of what they were suggesting was good practice. The menus and snacks we provided were healthy and we had always worked exceptionally hard to make sure we created a lovely, social mealtime atmosphere which practitioners shared with the children. We wanted to make mealtimes feel like family occasions and I think we were doing well with that. We probably weren’t blowing our own trumpet loud enough about what we were doing! It can be hard to prove that you are doing these things well.
So when I heard that there was a programme where we could access support from an actual nutritionist I thought it was a wonderful opportunity. I might be a healthy eating enthusiast but with the best will in the world my training was a very long time ago and things have changed! A registered nutritionist has all the latest training and I knew that it would be a brilliant resource to have somebody work alongside us and be there for contact should we need extra support. I jumped at the chance.
I wanted to check what we were doing and obviously make improvements. I was also very excited about the opportunity to have a member of our team trained with the Level 3 award unit, and our chef on the Level 2 course. I suppose I felt that the healthy eating push was coming a lot from me but to embed lasting changes you need everyone championing it.
Prior to starting with EYNP it was sometimes hard to get our practitioners on board with the healthy eating agenda. There was a lot of push back on portion sizes, chickpeas and juice for example. The team often thought I was being mean when I wanted to serve mackerel dip and reduce cake intake!
Now it is different. My practitioner who did the Level 3 course is our ‘lead’ on nutrition, she has ownership of it now within the setting. She enjoys keeping check and cascades her learning down through the rest of the team. That was a genius move! Our chef is so enthusiastic about EYNP, she is absolutely committed and has learned a lot through doing the Level 2 course. She’s only been with us for eighteen months and has worked in other nurseries and schools. She cannot believe how much most of our children really enjoy their vegetables!
Working with Alison has been a really lovely experience. She’s so supportive and it’s made all the difference to the attitude of the team too. I finally feel like I have some weight behind what I was trying to achieve. It isn’t just coming from me, there was an expert backing up how important this all is!
One of the best things about EYNP is that it’s about making healthy choices part of our everyday life at the nursery. We are much more organised now in how we integrate thinking about healthy eating and drinking into everything we do. Our role play is much more focused on healthy food now; the children regularly get involved in meal preparation and when we cook it’s not cake! In reality we were probably only making cursory efforts before, but now thanks to Alison we have so many more ideas. We are very conscious of not wasting food, but in our baby room we regularly have sessions where lettuces or heads of celery are deconstructed and sticks of sprouts are investigated, much to the babies’ delight! The toddlers transport mange tout and new potatoes around the room in boxes and baskets and pre-schoolers happily share out parsnips and broad beans etc. during role play. Then it usually gets eaten! Being around healthy food is now the norm.
We’ve got a small garden and have been growing bits and bobs for a few years. Somehow it’s become much more meaningful, the children are making the connection between growing produce and eating well. The practitioners support the children with more opportunities for planting through to cropping, cooking and eating, and they are making those important lessons come to life for the children. I’m absolutely thrilled to see it all connect together and I couldn’t be happier to see everybody being inspired.
I’m so happy that we have achieved the Quality Mark and can finally shout about the work we are doing and demonstrate our commitment to healthy eating. As we move into next year I’m excited to work with Alison on building more of a partnership with parents. The parents of our current children are really complimentary about our work with EYNP and we are sharing more and more recipes and information at home! We get lots of great feedback that the work we do here through EYNP is having an impact on how children eat at home too, which is fantastic.
We all appreciate that there is so much to do in the day when working with young children and I understand how nutrition can slip down the agenda. I do however feel very strongly that this is an essential subject for early years settings to tackle. Nobody can deny the scary statistics about childhood obesity. If you go back enough years an educational focus was to be able to cook for yourself and learn about nutrition, but for whatever reason it just disappeared, and many people have stopped doing it. We as a society are paying the price for that now. Getting nutrition right in the early years has a lifelong impact on eating habits. The evidence is there and you can’t argue with the statistics. I believe we have a duty to do all we can.
I am keen to tell everyone that joining EYNP is really worth the investment. It’s so much more than you might think. It’s not just about the menus. It has so many links with so much of the EYFS curriculum and when you start to look at it you realise how it all fits together and works for the good of the nursery, making you a better setting and a better team. I am so proud that I now know I’m providing the best I can and doing the best for our children, who I’m sure will reap the benefits in their future years.
By the way ………. You should try the mackerel dip, the children love it with their breadsticks!