18th January 2022 All Posts News & Trends Success Stories

LEYF Opens Enrolment of its Chef Academy to Interested Candidates to Help Tackle Childhood Obesity

In response to an alarming rise in early childhood obesity with more than 1 in 4 children (28%) now entering reception overweight or obese, the UK’s largest charitable social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) is leading the way by opening its professional Chef Academy qualification externally, with the first non-LEYF chefs starting in March. Further training opportunities will be introduced in October 2022 to ensure that the maximum number of chefs can access this crucial CACHE endorsed qualification.

With more than 1 million children per year attending some kind of Early Years setting (and many eating all their meals each day there), LEYF’s belief is that the sector now has a real opportunity to improve children’s diet and long-term health once and for all.

LEYF’s professional qualification is the first of its kind for the sector which aims to transform how all UK nurseries provide nutritionally sound meals and encourage life-long healthy eating habits. Chefs will become experts in child nutrition including everything from portion sizes and weaning, to menu-planning and managing allergies, while building their confidence to conduct exciting food-related activities with children, staff and parents. 

First launched in 2019, the course has been updated using key insights from research commissioned by LEYF and conducted by CEEDA (between May and June 2021) that explored opportunities and barriers for Early Years settings to improve the diets and eating habits of children, staff, parents and the wider community. 

Credit: Isabelle Johnson/London Early Years Foundation

Highlighting two main areas where Early Years settings could benefit from further support to help tackle child obesity and improve the health of their wider community, the research suggested an urgent need to:

  • Build the knowledge and skills of chefs and Early Years staff about children’s nutritional needs
  • Support parents to embed good practice for children at home

The research also tested the demand for LEYF’s proposed course to fill these training gaps.

Key findings revealed: 

  • Whilst most catering staff have some sort of qualification, none were specifically targeted at Early Years nutrition 
  • Just 19% of teachers surveyed reported being “very confident” in nutrition for children aged 7-12 months and 39% for children aged 1 to 4 years
  • Only 24% of teachers were “very confident” in setting appropriate portion sizes 
  • A third of parents (29%) say they are concerned about their child’s diet
  • Almost a third of parents (30%) reported their family couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals (an indicator of food poverty)
  • 70% of parents said they would be interested in attending a nutrition workshop

Furthermore, three-quarters of parents (75%) would be more likely to trust advice on healthy eating for their child if it came from a specially trained chef, and a third of parents (32%) surveyed said that the quality of food offered had a significant impact on their choice of Early Years setting.

June O’Sullivan CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) says:

“The best way to embed a healthy food culture for children is to train those who cook. Children’s nutritional needs are quite different to adults and it’s imperative that we get this right with proper professional training for Early Years chefs. There’s no denying that once a child becomes obese, it is highly likely that they will be obese for the rest of their lives. This is why, as a sector, we need to take a more responsible, supportive and joined-up approach.” 

Paul Lindley, children’s welfare campaigner and Chair of London Child Obesity Taskforce adds:

“LEYF’s research has shown Early Years settings need vital support to improve their understanding of children’s nutritional needs and their ability to encourage healthy eating habits, both in nurseries and at home. The barriers parents described in putting healthy food on the table emphasised the need for Early Years settings to do far more to support parents to improve child nutrition which is why urgent and decisive action is now needed across the sector and particularly in areas of greatest deprivation which is where the highest rates of obesity occur.”

For more information about the new external Chef Academy cohort or to register interest, visit https://leyf.org.uk/chef-academy/

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