With news from Public Health England that almost one in four children are overweight or obese before they start school, it’s clear that we need to act on these dangerously high levels of obesity amongst children, and fast. When you take into account the fact that a third of a child’s daily nutritional intake occurs when they are in childcare, early years settings have a responsibility now and for future generations to help put a stop to these rising levels of obesity.
Eating habits and tastes are formed from an early age so it’s crucial to introduce a good variety of foods at the earliest possible opportunity. Nurseries and primary schools play such an important role in ensuring that children receive the nutritional balance they need for their optimum development and long-term health. It’s also about ensuring children are fuelled on the right foods for learning (and play) whilst at the same time helping to encourage good eating habits for the future.
Often there is the concern that with the term ‘nutritious’ comes an increased expense, but this needn’t be the case, and this applies to nurseries and to parents scratch cooking at home. It’s about ensuring that their diets are varied, whilst keeping a close eye on ensuring certain essential nutrients feature and nutritional requirements are met. Put simply, the focus needs to be on developing nourishing meals that are fresh, wholesome and packed with flavour. Menus don’t have to be over complicated or time consuming, particularly with certain dietary requirements and allergies to cater for too. One-pot meals, tray bakes and children’s favourites such a pasta bake or cottage pie for example are fantastic options.
My mission is to equip families with simple food ideas and solutions whether that’s early years settings or parents feeding their families at home. So here are a few of my top tips for influencing healthy eating habits.
Variety is key
Cook the rainbow and introduce lots of different foods, flavours and textures – variety is key. Children are also more likely to try new foods in the company of other children – they learn from one another and at times influence one another too! Simply by watching other children eating the food on offer, a fussy-eating tot will be motivated to try it themselves.
In these early years, children are learning about everything that makes food delicious: taste, texture, smell and consistency and it’s important to introduce lots of different foods now as it can form their eating habits for the future. It is easy to underestimate how adventurous children can be when it comes to new tastes. Don’t be afraid to take them on a taste adventure through their food – mild curries, a stir fry or Moroccan spiced tagines are all food for thought!
Nursery settings will no doubt have tried and tested favourites and planned and costed out menus that work for them. It’s not always about changing whole menus but instead more about sneaking in extra nutrition where you can. For example, you can easily include nutritious foods like red lentils in a cottage pie and cover it with a sweet potato or potato and carrot topping. You can also blend carrot, red pepper, mushroom, onion and tomatoes with minced beef to create a tasty hidden veg Bolognese. Or why not add grated carrot and apple to your meatballs. It’s about simple, yet effective (and tasty!) add-ons.
Again, variety is key but early years settings need to be mindful of the nutritional requirements which need to feature in children’s diets – iron, Omega 3 essential fatty acids, protein, carbohydrates, fat as well as vitamins and minerals.
And don’t forget to include those essential omega 3 fatty acids which can be found in oily fish like salmon. Studies suggest that getting enough of these essential fatty acids impacts on intelligence, social skills and behaviour. So you can see why it’s at the top of the nutrient hit list for our little learners!
Together with the expertise and trust of the No.1 children’s cookery author Annabel Karmel, the Yum Yum Food Company delivers fresh, nutritious and delicious meals to the early years sector, fuelling children with the best nourishment for busy days of play, learning and development. Visit www.yumyumfoodcompany.co.uk for more information.
Annabel and The Yum Yum Food Company will be at Childcare & Education Expo London – head over to stand G10 to say hello!