Jan 23, 2009

Healthy eating vital in the early years

I have just been reading a really interesting article which was in the Times last week – if you would like to read the whole article visit http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/article5524947.ece?dm_i=2MN,HP1,5SBSA,V9H,1

In it the importance of healthy eating in the pre-school years is highlighted, showing the lasting effects it can have on diet and nutrition in all children. Caroline Stacey writes:

It’s funny how people think biscuits, crisps and squash are suitable for children,” Dr Pauline Emmett, a nutritionist at the University of Bristol, says in a deadpan manner.

It seems obvious that catching them young – as the Jesuits say – is essential. Yet when it comes to nutrition there hasn’t been a concerted effort to instil good habits at the earliest opportunity. What children eat before they start school is no laughing matter, and Dr Emmett’s research gives more reasons why we should take early years nutrition even more seriously than school food.

Last year, research by the Institute of Education at the University of London, using Dr Emmett’s 17-year study of 9,000 children growing up in Britain, showed that what they eat from their earliest years matters more that their diet later on. In fact, when children are older nutrition seems to have less effect on attainment. Even when their diet subsequently improved, those who had eaten the most junk and processed food at the age of 3 still tended to do less well at school than more healthily fed children. “We were surprised by the results. We thought children’s current diet would be more important than their diet several years previously,” Dr Emmett says.

At The Old Station Nursery we have always taken food and nutrition very seriously – my former career was as a catering officer in the Army and having studied nutrition at university it has always been a great interest and passion.  All our cooks work to nutritionally balanced menu cycles and we are always modifying and updating our menus to try and introduce new foods, more fruit and vegetables and lower sugar options. However, this is always balanced against what the children enjoy, to make sure that they eat good meals and enjoy them.  We are just about to start work with some nutrition students from Oxford Brookes university, to review all the menus in detail and see how we can make further improvement. I will keep you updated on how the project goes, but in the meantime, do let your nursery managers know what you think about the current menus and how we could incorporate new dishes or old favourites.

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