As the BNF launch their ‘Healthy Eating Week 2017’ to focus on healthy eating, drinking and physical activity in order to encourage healthy living (to read more about ‘Healthy Eating Week’ take a look at the the BNF website https://www.nutrition.org.uk/foodinschools/programme/healthyeatingweek.html ) we will be talking about how we promote healthy living within our everyday practice and routines, the ways we do this, the reasons for it and the benefits this has on the children’s growth and development.
A child’s diet is fundamental to their learning and development as well as their long-term health. Research shows that childhood is a critical time for growth in which time good nutrition is vital. Children who have poor diets are prone to significant and short-term and long-term health implications and diseases in addition to a greater risk of developing emotional and mental health problems and failures in thriving academically. As childcare providers we have a responsibility to ensuring we provide children with the right food and nutrients to support their growth.
As a home-based setting, we pride ourselves on offering traditional home-cooked meals and snacks, adhering completely to the guidelines set out by the Children’s Food Trust who developed their ‘Eat Better, Do Better’ initiative in 2016 to get children eating well for life, from the earliest stages. Our menus are meticulously planned to ensure children are eating a balanced and nutritious diet; we have taken inspiration from world famous children’s chef Annabel Karmel and also had our menus reviewed by the award-winning chef of the River Cafe; Sian Wyn-Owen.
As a setting, we have always strongly believed that children should be actively involved in the preparation of their meals, which having both previously worked in day nurseries for many years, we understand that this is not always possible due to the amount of children, limited space, time and other restrictions.However, providing home-based childcare, we are in a position to actively involve and support the children throughout the process of growing, choosing and preparing their food, to enable them to feel more in control of their choices and food intake.
We place emphasis upon the process of highlighting to children where food comes from, by developing our own growing area; growing our own tomatoes and potatoes, which the children have an active role in throughout; from preparing the area, planting the seeds, tending and monitoring their growth before picking them.We encourage children to explore different recipes, before choosing what they would like to make or how we could incorporate the produce we’ve grown into our meals and the children help to prepare and cook the produce themselves, displaying an increased sense of achievement and a more positive attitude towards the meal when they have been involved in the whole preparation process. Take our recent Elderflower project for example, the children were involved from the outset; learning to identify Elderflower from other plants in the natural environment, deciding what they would like to use them for, learning how to make cordial and gathering the necessary ingredients, working together to make the cordial before bottling it and giving it to their parents as a gift. Allowing the children to be involved in the entire process gave the children a sense of ownership which contributed to the positive attitude and excitement the children developed about trying new tastes.
To encourage children to explore and try new fruits and vegetables with varying textures and tastes, we take the children on regular visits to our local “Pick Your Own” farm, where they have the opportunity to explore and witness an extensive range of fruits and vegetables growing in an idyllic expanse of land before picking the produce straight from their roots/trees/bushes. This too has a positive impact on the children’s attitudes to new foods and tastes; children are much more likely to try new foods once they have become more familiar with seeing, touching and smelling them.
We encourage and provide real fruit and vegetables in our role-play areas to enable children to explore different ‘real’ foods in their own time and at their own pace to allow them to become more familiar with them before being encouraged to try them within a meal.
We are advocates of making mealtimes more of a fun, light-hearted occasion in contrast to it just being considered a necessary part of the daily routine; involving the parents and families too as we regularly send home samples of the food the children have made and eaten, in addition to sharing menus and recipes with our parents and families on a regular basis. We believe that it is vital to involve the whole family in our food and nutrition routines in order to promote and develop consistency for children and their meal time routines and expectations.
Healthy food choices and a positive attitude to mealtimes are embedded from the earliest stages and within our setting we spend time supporting babies and their families during the weaning period, aiming to provide them with a variety of textures, flavours and types of food whilst also supporting them with feeding and the introduction of new tastes and consistencies. As a setting, we provide opportunities for a mixture of baby and adult-led weaning, dependent upon parental preference. We have had great success with weaning and introduction to solid food and pride ourselves on producing children with good appetites, a positive outlook on meal times and food, as well as confidence to try new foods. The Infant and Toddler Forum (http://www.infantandtoddlerforum.org) report that even during the earliest stages of children’s relationships with food, milk and the introduction of solid family foods, these experiences are critical to children’s health and can have long term impact on their development and well-being.
As children grow older, their appetites naturally grow with them, but portion sizes are a large contributor to children’s growth and development, both negatively and positively. If children’s portion sizes are not monitored and managed effectively this can have a negative impact on their health and weight, in some cases resulting in childhood obesity, which sadly we are seeing all too much of in today’s society; with the number of obese children almost tripling in the UK over the past 25 years. (www.bupa.co.uk)
Mealtimes at our setting are a social event and the children are encouraged to sit and eat together to promote positive role-modelling, not only for consuming food but for eating practices; using cutlery, table manners and such like. For some children, this kind of arrangement will have an impact on their eating habits as some children, mainly between 3 and 6 years (although we commonly see this behaviour in our younger children too!) like to copy other children’s behaviour and so being prompted to eat more by finishing what is on their plate will encourage them to eat a healthy portion, particularly if they can witness other children doing so. Alternatively, we have found if a child is a less confident eater, regular prompting may result in a child eating less food as well as making mealtimes uncomfortable for them, in turn impacting negatively on their attitudes towards food and mealtimes. As practitioners we must be mindful of this at mealtimes, although it can be frustrating when children refuse and pick at their food, our attitudes and responses to their eating habits can also be a catalyst for poor eating habits and negative correlations with food and so we must try and avoid applying unnecessary pressure on an already anxious child at this particular time of day.
Whether you are a practitioner or a parent; use this ‘Healthy Eating Week’ to introduce a new food/taste to your child’s meals this week, talking about the benefits these can have on their bodies, growth and development! Better still, allow the children to help you prepare a meal/snack for them too!
Here are a few of our tips for getting children involved and positive in their approach to healthy eating and trying new foods:
- Kitchen essentials: child proof knife (safety knife to allow the children to participate in snack and meal preparation.
- Small plastic/metal jugs to encourage independence when serving drinks.
- Don’t be afraid to adapt the menu if opportunities arise, such as a trip to the local market to buy ingredients, or a celebration or festival is being celebrated.
- Keep a record of what the children eat and drink (particularly) useful when supporting weaning babies) to ensure accurate information is relayed to parents.
- Give the children choices when setting the table. For example, asking the child which colour bib they’d like to wear, or if they would like a plastic or metal cutlery.