Jun 21, 2021

Why is Healthy Eating Important for Children From a Young Age?

Healthy Eating in the Early Years

We, as Early Years Practitioners, class healthy eating as eating from our five main food groups; fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy, pulses, fish, eggs and meat, fats, sugar and water.

We know that children’s food preferences and eating habits are formed early in life and the time that they spend in early years settings, provides an ideal opportunity to shape healthy behaviours. We understand that the experience of a variety of different foods at an early age increases acceptance of new foods, and provides a more diverse diet with the range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed for health.

Good nutrition is, therefore, the building block of a healthy, happy child. At nursery, we serve nutritious meals where every dish is cooked from scratch, using fresh ingredients and organic vegetables, whenever possible. Our Nursery Cooks are trained using Schools Food Trust guidelines to ensure mealtimes are delicious, packed with good things and enjoyable for children to eat.

As soon as children begin to explore the wonders of food, they explore the textures, tastes and smells of a variety of foods. Families begin to wean children by starting with the basics; fruit and vegetables; but as soon as food menus expand and life gets busier, it’s easy to forget the importance of fruit and vegetables. We all know that raising a child, however, means consistency and what we feed our children is no different. There are lots of recipes out there that can suit every family and their needs. We understand that cooking a meal each evening as a family can be difficult and getting your child to enjoy the meal can be extremely challenging on occasion.

If your child is old enough, you can always encourage them to join in with preparing and even helping to cook dinner. If your child is still quite young, include them in the process; whether choosing what recipe, choosing which healthy foods to include, helping to prepare, helping to cook or even just standing and watching. It can make the whole experience more enjoyable.

When talking about healthy eating for children, nutritionists will always advise to eat five fruits and vegetables a day. This can be as simple as, cucumber with hummus for a morning snack. That’s two of your five a day done already! For lunch, it could be a vegetable curry and you could experiment with using sweet potato, lentils or even courgettes and peppers. Perhaps swapping the sweet potato for pumpkin when the Halloween season depends. That’s another two vegetables done! For an afternoon snack, it could be a bowl of mixed fruit; strawberries, pineapple, banana and apple. Creating a bowl of sour, sharp and sweet tastes. For dinner, you could explore a simple spaghetti bolognese but with some added tomatoes, mushrooms and kidney beans; blending all of those exciting flavours and textures together. Without these key nutrients, under nutrition causes children to have less energy and less interest for learning, which negatively influences cognitive development. Under nutrition can also affect physical growth and maturation thus affecting growth rate, body weight and height.

All of these recipes can be altered to suit any diet and to suit a baby at any stage of weaning. If your child doesn’t like that fruit or vegetable that day, make a note and the next time you recreate the meal, ask them which vegetables or fruit they would like to include. It can be a great conversation starter and an amazing moment for some ‘wow’ words and language enrichment with any age child.

‘The Eatwell Guide’ by the NHS gives a detailed guide on what we eat overall should come from what food group to achieve a healthy, well balanced meal. It also includes some recipes and tips. Without good nutrition, poor nutrition can lead to poor health; developing into some illnesses and other health problems such as being overweight or obese, tooth decay or high blood pressure.

Early childhood is an important time to establish healthy eating patterns. A balanced diet is key to healthy eating habits because it provides children with the nutrients they need to grow. At all of our nurseries, we will continue to work in partnership with all of our families to help establish these healthy eating patterns. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your nursery team. If you’d like some ideas on recipes and things to cook with your child at home, take a look at our ‘Cooking and Baking with Children’ activities page and even try out some of our nursery recipes!

Sophie Mathis, Room Leader and ‘Food Champion’ at The Old Station Nursery in Oxford Science Park

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