The lack of clear guidance about a good diet for the under fives means that even the best-intentioned nursery schools are sometimes providing small children with the wrong proportions of food and nutrients, council regulators warned today, following the publication of new research.
An extensive two year study coordinated by LACORS, part of the Local Government Association Group, found that none of the nurseries which volunteered to be involved were managing to meet all of the current guidelines on food for this age group, despite many putting a lot of effort into providing healthy menus.
The 29 councils which took part in the project, working with more than 100 nurseries, showed that food standards were improved when childcare providers were given better information by dietitians about how to give very young children the right diet. LACORS is now urging government to establish a single source of practical guidance for nurseries in association with councils and health professionals.
Problems varied across all the nurseries involved but included:
• Excessively high levels of salt
• Inappropriate portion sizes, both too large and too small
• Shortages of carbohydrates to give children energy because some were being given too much fruit
A common problem was applying healthy eating principles which work for adults and older children to the under fives, despite their very different needs. Some nurseries also encountered pressure from parents to offer low fat options such as skimmed milk, even though this could be bad for very young children.
Chairman of LACORS, Cllr Paul Bettison, said:
“Most people concerned about healthy eating assume it’s all about beating obesity, but nutrition problems can also be caused by not giving children enough of the types of food they need.
“There is a lot of awareness of how to reduce obesity in adults and older children, but the same approaches cannot just be applied to toddlers. Children under the age of five have very specific dietary needs and our research has clearly shown there isn’t enough knowledge of how to meet them.
“The majority of nurseries involved in this work were trying very hard to offer children a healthy and enjoyable menu. Once councils gave them the extra information and support which was part of this research, staff were able to make rapid improvements to the diets of children in their care.
“Knowledge is the missing ingredient when it comes to making sure our children start their lives in the best possible health. This is why it is now necessary to provide simple, practical guidance so childcare workers can be more successful in offering the right mix of food, and to help parents understand what a good diet for a small child will look like.”
The full report is available here.
Notes to editors
LACORS (Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services) is the local government central body responsible for overseeing local authority regulatory and related services. Regulatory services is the name given to a group of services which exist to ensure public, consumer, environmental and worker protection. These range from protecting consumers against illegal doorstop selling to checking hygiene standards in restaurants and food factories. Many of the regulatory services that LACORS support are delivered though councils’ environmental health and trading standards services.
Overview of LACORS nationally coordinated food standards surveys
LACORS consults with councils throughout the UK to establish the annual sampling programme, produce a sampling protocol for chosen surveys, collate results, produce a summary report and produce a national press release where appropriate.
Participation by individual councils is optional and funded from their own budgets. They will consider their own community needs, intelligence, risk, regional work and wider national priorities when deciding whether they will participate in the LACORS programme.
LACORS coordinated survey at nursery schools
The survey involved 29 local authorities in England and 118 nursery schools, all participating on a voluntary basis and depending on the priorities and resources of individual authorities. LACORS produced a toolkit to support the survey, which included general guidance and practical tips for authorities taking part.
The LACORS toolkit provided councils with general guidance and practical tools to enable them to complete a food standards sampling survey looking at the nutritional value of food and drink provided to children aged 1 – 4 at nursery schools.
The LACORS toolkit suggested that samples were taken over a five day week with nutritional analysis being undertaken on a daily basis, though this was flexible in consideration of local priority and resource. Analysis was completed by public analysts.
All nurseries involved were requested to provide full menus and recipes where available. This material was considered by local dietitians and nutritionists along with the analysis to provide feedback and recommendations to the nurseries. Feedback to the nursery was based on the Caroline Walker Trust (CWT) guidance.