Research shows that the experiences young children and babies have during their first five years has a long-term effect on their cognitive, emotional and physical development and their life chances. This is particularly true of their diets. Children who have healthy diets when they are young are likely to be healthy throughout their lives.
On the other hand, children with poor diets are likely to struggle with poor health long term. This is a real problem: recent research has highlighted that young children in the UK have some of the worst diets in the world. Moreover, the poor health that results from these diets is not spread evenly: children from more disadvantaged areas are still almost twice as likely to develop tooth decay and to be overweight or obese by the time they start school than their more affluent peers.
The cost-of-living crisis and the rocketing price of healthy food will unfortunately make it harder than ever for families to provide healthy meals for their young children.
Children who have healthy diets when they are young are likely to be healthy throughout their lives.
Turning the tide in the Early Years
The good news is that Early Years settings can play a radical role in turning this tide and improving children’s diets and health.
Great settings don’t just feed children nutritious meals to fuel them for a day of learning, but they encourage children to try new foods, build good habits, and learn healthy social behaviors. Settings can encourage healthier choices among their families too: whether through offering meal packs and tips for cooking-at-home activities, or simply by offering evidence-based advice to families on everything from weaning or dietary requirements, to finding exciting ways for children to try new vegetables.
However, the fact remains for many of the 1.5m children who attend an Early Years setting each year, that a nursery-made meal – if they are lucky enough to get one – may be the only hot nutritious meal they have in a day. This reinforces why healthy meals must be universally accessible.
While families and settings are struggling financially, the economies of scale possible with batch cooking mean that the Early Years kitchen can be an efficient and powerful driver of better nutrition for these young children.
Great settings don’t just feed children nutritious meals to fuel them for a day of learning, but they encourage children to try new foods, build good habits, and socialise healthy behaviors.
A trained Early Years chef can be the catalyst for this change
The best Early Years chefs combine their sound knowledge of nutrition with the cultural and dietary needs of their children to design healthy and exciting menus and recipes. A good Early Years chef will cook fresh, seasonal food, maximising nutrition and flavour, while minimising cost and waste.
They bring their visually exciting dishes into the rooms, and talk to the children about the food, perhaps showing how the rosemary and the leeks on the plate came from the garden. They offer encouragement to a toddler trying mushrooms for the first time, or a pre-schooler serving noodles to her friends. They work with teachers to broaden children’s understanding of food by accompanying children to the fishmonger or the city farm. They share tips with tired parents at pick-up on how they can quickly use cupboard staples to make a delicious and healthy weeknight meal.
The best Early Years chefs combine their sound knowledge of nutrition with the cultural and dietary needs of their children to design healthy and exciting menus and recipes.
LEYF’s Early Years Chef Academy trains chefs to be the best
We designed our Chef Academy because we wanted to make sure chefs both at LEYF and across the sector were able to catalyse healthy eating through a whole-nursery approach. We first rolled this out to LEYF chefs first, then last year we started offering the course to all nurseries, and brought the training in-house so it is now taught by our very own specialist Chef Trainer Sean Cowden.
We are now evaluating it and have gathered fantastic feedback in our first ever impact report. Chefs told us that the training had improved their knowledge about Early Years nutrition; improved their confidence in encouraging children’s healthy food choices; encouraged more interaction with children and their teachers; and that they are starting to see meaningful improvements in children’s diets. One Early Years educator from a participating nursery said: “The food has changed… There is more taste and flavour. The children enjoy it more and they eat more.”
Apply to our Early Years Chef Academy
LEYF is a social enterprise, and as such we want our training to be accessible to settings who serve more disadvantaged communities. We are offering substantial discounts to charities and those who take children who are on the Government’s 2-year-old funding offer.