The Government must act now to improve nursery food and combat the rise in pre-school obesity, according to a survey of 1,000 parents conducted for the Better Nursery Food Now campaign. The campaign, run by The Soil Association and funded by Organix, launches a report today calling for the introduction of mandatory standards to ensure high quality food is served in all nurseries.
In England and Wales, there are over 600,000 children at nursery for up to ten hours a day. In many cases, nurseries are responsible for the majority of a child’s daily food during the working week. Almost one in four children (22.8%) starts school already overweight or obese, which means they are more likely to suffer serious health problems like heart disease and cancer later in life. Despite this, there are no clear nutritional standards in place for the food served in nurseries.
According to the Better Nursery Food Now survey of parents with children at nursery, commissioned by The Soil Association and Organix and conducted in February 2010, nine out of ten (89 per cent) parents want to see legally enforceable rules for the nutritional standards of food in nurseries.
- Eight out of ten parents (82 per cent) want foods like chips, sweets and chocolate, which are banned or restricted in primary and secondary schools, also banned in nurseries.
- Almost all parents (95 per cent) want to ban additives that are linked to behavioral problems or other health issues in nursery food.
- Almost all parents (94 per cent) want to see compulsory nutrition and cookery training for nursery staff preparing and serving food.
- Nine out of ten parents(88 per cent) want government funding available to help nurseries improve food provision.
- More than two thirds of parents (69 per cent) want to see a government department made responsible for monitoring the quality of food provided.
The survey found that only a third (34 per cent) of parents said they were happy with the food at their nursery. Around one in six (16 per cent) complained that the standard of food at their child’s nursery was poor, with children being given junk food, too many convenience foods and not enough fruit and veg.
Pamela Brunton, Soil Association policy manager says, “The younger the child, the more vulnerable their health is to the effects of poor quality nutrition. The government’s own research shows that a quarter of our opportunities to prevent obesity occur when a child is at nursery. It is vital that the government put regulation for nursery food at the top of their agenda, to ensure that every child gets the start in life that they deserve”.
Anna Rosier, Managing Director at Organix says “It’s vital we give pre-school children a healthy start in life, which is why its so shocking that there are no clear nutritional standards for nursery food, no compulsory training for staff serving food, no agency to monitor the quality of food, and no government department promoting good practice. We believe the current scenario is unacceptable and we want changes made urgently.
“We worked with the Soil Association to do the research on food served in schools which ultimately lead to the School Dinners Campaign, and it is not acceptable that nurseries are left behind – and that the health of our new generation is left to chance. That’s why we need better nursery food rules, now.”
“We are encouraged to hear today that the School Food Trust are planning to take responsibility for the health of our youngest and most vulnerable children. This was one of the most important recommendations of our report. We urge the SFT to follow the recommendations of the Better Nursery Food campaign and put in place compulsory standards for the food served in all nurseries- as is now the case in schools- and make sure nursery staff have the training and support they need to give every child the start in life they deserve.”
With MP Joan Walley, the Better Nursery Food Now campaign has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament asking for mandatory standards for the quality of food served to children in early years daycare. (An EDM is a petition that only MPs can sign to show their support for an issue and and push it up the political agenda). Our youngest children are the most vulnerable to the effects of poor diet, with almost one in four starting school already overweight or obese. This means they are more likely to suffer from serious health problems, like heart disease and cancer, later in life; yet there are no clear rules for food nurseries can serve.
Parents can help by emailing your MP to ask them to sign the petition, following the quick and easy instructions on our website: www.nurseryfood.org/email-your-mp.html
Thousands of people have signed Better Nursery Food Now’s online petition demanding better nursery food for our children, with thousands more people following the campaign’s progress on Twitter. To join the campaign or sign the petition, visit www.nurseryfood.org.
Existing regulation for nursery food is inadequate
- Since September 2008 the sole legislation for all nurseries in England (private and voluntary as well as state-maintained) has been the Early Years Foundation Stage. EYFS makes it a legal requirement that ‘Where children are provided with meals, snacks and drinks these must be healthy, balanced and nutritious.’
- There is guidance (which is not a legal requirement) for childcare workers, suggesting they should ‘encourage children to try healthy food, involve them in the preparation of food and reinforce messages about healthier choices through, for example, discussions about children’s food choices’
- However, EYFS provides no definition of what the government means by ‘healthy and nutritious’ for children in early years day care, and finds ‘babies and young children’ responsible for ‘making healthy choices’.
- The regulation says nothing about cooking methods (i.e. frying), does not restrict provision of highly processed meat products nor – importantly- state what may not be served; for instance, food with high levels of fat, salt or sugar, and fizzy drinks. It also only applies to food served at lunchtime.
Existing Regulation Reference:
Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, Department for Children, Schools and Families. www.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/eyfs/resources/downloads/statutory-framework.pdf
About the Soil Association:
The Soil Association is the UK’s leading environmental charity campaigning for sustainable, organic farming and championing human health. http://www.soilassociation.org
Organix is a pioneer of organic baby food in the UK. Organix donates a percentage of its profits from food sales to the Organix Foundation, a charity which supports parents by campaigning and challenging the food industry and Government to make high quality nutritious food widely available for all children. http://www.organix.com and http://www.organixfoundation.org
About the Stakeholder Briefing – Wednesday 31st March 2010:
The stakeholders’ event is to brief interested people and organisations in the nursery sector about the Better Nursery Food Now campaign, and to allow them to show support for the campaign and to help guide it. We have caterers and cooks, parents, nutritionists, the NDNA, the Daycare Trust, and others attending. It happened on the 31st March, at a nursery in Westminster (interestingly, on the same street at the School Food Trust are also meeting to discuss nursery food).
About the Early Day Motion in the House of Commons:
Find the full text of the EDM, with a list of the MPs who have already signed, on the Parliament website