1st May 2024 Leadership & Management All Posts

Getting Ready for the New Academic Year – Is it Time to Update your Nursery Menus?

In the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework, there’s a concise paragraph regarding nursery menus in the ‘Food and Drink’ guidance.

3.55 Where children are provided with meals, snacks, and drinks, these must be healthy, balanced and nutritious. Before a child is admitted to the setting the provider must obtain information about any special dietary requirements, preferences, and food allergies that the child has, and any special health requirements. Fresh drinking water must always be available and accessible to children. Providers must record and act on information from parents and carers about a child’s dietary needs.

It emphasises the importance of providing healthy, balanced, and nutritious meals, snacks, and drinks to children in nursery settings. While the brevity of this guidance allows for flexibility in catering to individual dietary needs, it also poses challenges for some nurseries.

Navigating special diets and ensuring meals meet nutritional standards can be daunting, particularly for settings with limited resources or expertise. Moreover, the cost implications of serving nutritious meals may strain nursery budgets. Without clear directives, there’s a risk of inconsistency across nurseries in defining what constitutes a healthy meal.

Recognising these concerns, leaders from over 150 early years settings have recently united to address childhood health and obesity issues. In a joint effort, they have urged the government to revise the EYFS to establish clearer standards for nutritious meals. This collective initiative outlines the shared commitment to promoting the well-being of young children.

Ensuring that nursery settings provide nutritious meals is essential for supporting children’s growth, development, and overall well-being. These meals not only establish healthy eating habits early on but also significantly contribute to various aspects of child development, including cognitive growth, immune system function, and emotional stability.

While awaiting further government initiatives, nurseries can proactively take steps to improve their menus and instil healthy eating habits in children. 

With September fast approaching, nurseries have a prime opportunity to refresh their menus, appealing to parents who prioritise nutritious options for their little ones.

Update your nursery menus ahead of the new term

Revamping menus for a nursery requires a thoughtful approach to ensure that meals are not only nutritious but also appealing to children and accommodating to various dietary needs. Below, we’ve outlined a comprehensive 8-step plan to guide you through the process of launching a new menu ahead of the upcoming term.

  1. Evaluate Current Nursery Menus: Start by assessing your current menus to understand what meals are being offered, their nutritional value, and any feedback from children, parents, or staff.
  2. Review Nutritional Guidelines: Familiarise yourself with the new government guidelines, such as those provided by the Department for Education, which offer resources for meeting Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requirements. Accessible resources cover topics from introducing solid foods to engaging children in food-related activities. See more here.
  3. Consult Nutrition Experts: Consider consulting with nutritionists or dietitians specialising in children’s nutrition for valuable insights and recommendations. Additionally, explore services like those offered by food delivery services such as Apetito or Nursery Kitchen, which provide healthy, balanced meal delivery options.
  4. Brainstorm Menu Ideas: Collaborate with your kitchen staff to generate new menu ideas that align with nutritional guidelines and accommodate dietary restrictions. Encourage staff input to keep them engaged in the process. Whenever feasible, incorporate seasonal and locally sourced ingredients into your menus to support local farmers, reduce environmental impact, and provide fresher, more flavorful meals. Take into account any dietary restrictions or preferences among the children, including allergies, cultural considerations, or vegetarian/vegan diets. Strive for a balance between introducing new foods and providing familiar favourites to encourage children to try new foods gradually.
  5. Plan Weekly Menus: Develop a rotating weekly menu offering a variety of meals and snacks while ensuring each meal includes components from different food groups to provide balanced nutrition. Consider creating visual menus using pictures or illustrations, particularly for younger children who may not be able to read yet. Visual aids can enhance mealtime engagement and help children make informed choices.
  6. Engage Parents and Staff: Effectively inform and engage parents and staff in the menu update process through email newsletters, digital tools like Connect Childcare, posters, workshops, and in-person presentations. Gather feedback from families to evaluate satisfaction and make necessary adjustments.
  7. Log and communicate Children’s Meal Consumption: Utilise digital apps like ParentZone to share meal details with parents, including photos and portion sizes showing what their child has eaten. Pre-upload meals to streamline updates for staff and ensure efficient tracking of children’s dietary intake.
  8. Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update menus based on feedback, nutritional guidelines, and changing dietary needs or preferences. Encourage open discussion and promptly address concerns or questions from parents, children, and staff.

By following these steps, you can ensure a smooth transition and successful implementation of your new nursery menus, providing children with nutritious and enjoyable meals while accommodating their dietary needs and preferences.

Preparing for the upcoming term?

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About the Author

Marketing Lead at Connect Childcare