What’s in a Nursery Menu? The Importance of Healthy Eating for Children

As a parent, are you curious about which foods are contained in a nursery menu?

Are you anxious about what your child is eating at nursery and want to know more about their nutrition?

Depending on how much time your child spends at nursery, they could be eating a significant proportion of their meals there.

As a result, it’s important you understand exactly what food your child is consuming so you can be confident they’re receiving the nutrition they need.

Making sure your child eats the right foods from an early age is very important. In their early years, children start to build a relationship with food, and this will continue as they move through their life.

Therefore, encouraging positive eating habits in little ones can help make sure they are happy and healthy through nursery and beyond.

However, how do you know these healthy food habits are being maintained when you’re not present? You put a lot of faith in the nursery you choose, and you trust them to provide the right food for your child.

They have a responsibility to care for your child, and that includes providing healthy and nutritious meals. Now, we’re not trying to say your child can’t have a treat every now and then! It’s about balance, and making sure they’re consuming the right proportions of different food groups at the right times.

So, let’s dive into the importance of healthy eating for little ones.
two children eating food

Why Is a Nursery Menu Important?

We’ve briefly touched on this in the intro, but a nursery menu should contain all of the foods that your child needs to thrive.

Research has shown that a balanced, nutritious diet has a positive impact on a child’s ability to learn. During their early years, a child’s mind is absorbing a lot of information as they engage in new experiences for the very first time.

They’re discovering new ideas and concepts, and working out how different things work which takes a lot of energy. They’re also meeting a lot of new faces, and learning how to interact with others, which can be tiring in their early years of life.

Essentially, this is a period of rapid growth and their mind is like a sponge. Good nutrition is essential as it supports their well being and cognitive development.

At Nursery, you’re handing this responsibility over to the nursery practitioners. Lots of parents work full time jobs, and as such, your child might be at nursery for the majority of the week. Therefore, the nursery menu needs to provide children with the right food.

Any child care provider has a duty to introduce your child to a variety of foods and establish a pattern of regular meals and healthy snacks.

The arrangements of these meals will vary depending on the nursery you choose, so it’s important you do your research before choosing which setting is right for your child.

Do Nurseries Have a Responsibility to Provide a Healthy Nursery Menu?

Every nursery setting has a responsibility to provide a healthy and nutritious nursery menu for the children in their care.

The Government’s Department of Education’s Statutory Framework for The Early Years Foundation Stage defines standards that nurseries and other childcare providers must meet.

However, these are vague and are often misinterpreted as a result.

The guidelines simply refer to:

  • Healthy, balanced, and nutritious meals and snacks
  • Fresh drinking water at all times
  • An area adequately equipped to provide healthy meals

Because there is nothing that actually states what should be included in a nursery menu, nursery settings can often get this wrong.

Without having a qualified Dietitian or Nutritionist advising on what to include, nurseries use their own knowledge to decipher what foods to offer children.

As a result, this causes a great deal of variability between settings, which can be confusing for parents when deciding which nursery is right for their child.

However, there are more detailed voluntary guidelines that nursery settings can use to help them interpret the standards in the right way.
young child smiling

What are the Voluntary Guidelines for a Nursery Menu?

Whilst the voluntary guidelines have been available since 2012, nurseries can choose whether or not they listen to these guidelines when deciding what food to serve children.

As such, these guidelines are helpful, but they do not provide any guarantee that your chosen nursery will follow them when designing their own menu.

According to the guidelines, a healthy balanced diet for children aged one to five is based on the following four food groups:

  • Starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals (four portions per day)
  • Fruit and vegetables (five portions per day)
  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy forms of proteins (two portions per day)
  • Milk and dairy foods (three portions per day)

These four food groups provide a range of essential nutrients that children need to develop.

It’s important to offer a selection of food and drinks from the food groups above, as this helps to ensure that a good balance of nutrients is consumed. As well as detailed information about each food group, the guidelines also cover the areas below:

  • Drinks
  • Desserts, puddings and cakes
  • Fat
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • How to read food labels
  • Iron and zinc
  • Food additives
  • Ready-made meals and takeaways
  • Fortified foods
  • Portion sizes for different ages

The guidelines also provide information about how food should be balanced throughout the day.

It is important that children consume the right amount of food and drink at different times as this ensures a well-balanced, healthy diet.

The guidelines divide energy and nutritional requirements across meals and snacks in the following proportions:

  • Breakfast — 20%
  • Mid-morning snack — 10%
  • Lunch — 30% (assuming lunch is the main meal)
  • Mid-afternoon snack — 10%
  • Tea — 20%

Whilst this is a fantastic guide, there is nothing set in stone.

Nursery settings can still choose which parts of the guidelines they listen to, which explains the varied experiences parents have when looking through different nursery menus.
children healthy eating at nursery

How Nurseries can use the Voluntary Guidelines in their Nursery Menu

Nursery settings should be aware of the voluntary guidelines and should make a conscious effort to include this in the menu planning.

It’s important they ensure each day is balanced so that your child has enough variety. After all, it’s very boring eating the same thing over and over again (even if it is healthy), so they need to introduce children to new and exciting foods.

This includes a variety of textures, taste, and colour so that children can experience food from different cultures. It’s also important to have a menu cycle for several weeks, so that children attending on the same day each week are not always having the same meal.

New menu cycles should be introduced at least twice a year and where possible, seasonal foods should be used. At The Hunny Pot Nursery, we provide a summer and winter menu to provide your child with a mix of delicious meals. Within those seasons, menus are rotated to ensure children experience a variety of cuisines and flavours.

In addition to this, menus should be planned in advance as this helps ensure a good variety of food is maintained.

Meals and snacks should also be shared with parents so that they can plan meals at home.

Nursery Menu Example: The Hunny Pot Nursery

At The Hunny Pot Nursery, all meals are freshly prepared every day. Our own in-house, experienced cook ensures that the meals are well balanced and nutritious, through the provision of a variety of tasty foods.

We understand the growing problem with obesity, which is why we take healthy eating very seriously.

By encouraging positive food habits in early childhood, we can contribute to a healthier and happier society.

You’ll be reassured to know that our kitchen is inspected by Environmental Health Officers every single year. The inspection outcome is a score based on a star rating from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest.

At The Hunny Pot, we have always achieved a score of 5 and have proudly maintained this for the last ten years.

Take a look at our sample menu below:

hunny pot sample menu screenshot

Our menu options always go down an absolute treat with the children in our care!

We’re not only committed to providing children with nutritious food, but also a fantastic learning experience. That’s why our staff will sit with your child, and will guide them through the importance of good table manners so that they can become independent and happy eaters.

Want to find out more? Get in touch with our friendly team or book a tour of the nursery today!

What Is the Current Health Status of Young Children in England?

When identifying the importance of a healthy nursery menu, it can be helpful to look at some facts about the health status of young children in England.

As we’ve discussed, instilling healthy eating habits from a young age is highly important as this influences the way they see food throughout their life.

Therefore, this can help mitigate problems in later life such as obesity which has huge negative implications on a child’s mental and physical wellbeing.

It can also lead to issues with their self-confidence and self-acceptance which can make it more difficult for them to integrate into a classroom environment.

With that said, let’s look at some statistics about children’s physical health:

  • 14.4% of reception age children (age 4-5) are obese
  • 13.3% of children between 4 and 5 overweight
  • At age 10-11 (year 6) 25.5% of children are obese
  • In years 6 15.4% of all children are overweight
  • Obesity prevalence is higher for boys than for girls

The data above is taken from 2020/21 and is gathered as part of the National Child Measurement Programme.

The report also found that these figures have rapidly increased compared to the previous year (2019/20), when 9.9% of children aged 4-5 and 21.0% of children aged 10-11 were obese.

As a result, childhood obesity rates are on the rise which is why a nutritious nursery menu is critical to ensure children lead happy and healthy lives.
child reaching for strawberries

What’s in a Nursery Menu? The Importance of Healthy Eating for Children

A nursery menu should contain all of the nutrients your child needs to grow and develop.

This is a crucial stage in a child’s life as this is when they first form their food preferences and eating behaviours. Therefore, this provides nursery practitioners with the perfect opportunity to shape a child’s eating for the better by introducing a range of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Every parent wants to know that their child is eating well at nursery. When they’re not physically present, it’s the responsibility of their chosen nursery to look after their child and serve nutritious food.

As we’ve noted, nutritious doesn’t have to mean boring! It’s about serving delicious meals that are packed with good things that children enjoy eating.

This will encourage children to have a positive relationship with food which is vital for their mental and physical health. On top of providing a good nursery menu, early years settings should also provide ample opportunities for exercise and outdoor play.

At The Hunny Pot Nursery, we have a range of exciting outdoor classrooms that ​​expose children to a wide variety of physical activities. This means children can have a different adventure every day, whilst getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.

To find out more, book a free tour of our nursery today!

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