November 5th to 9th was National School Meals Week. This year, it coincided with the publication of a survey by the Local Authority Caterers Association, which examined parental views about nutritional standards in free schools and academies. The survey revealed that 57% of parents did not know if their child’s school was meeting the nutritional standards set by the government. The majority of parents also said they would welcome the introduction of an independent body to monitor schools to ensure that standards are being met.
Knowledge of nutrition is an extremely important aspect of working with young children and forms a significant part of both the Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, particularly:
L2: Unit MU 2.8 Contribute to the Support of the Positive Environments for Children and Young People
L3: Unit EYMP 3 Promote Children’s Welfare and Wellbeing in the Early Years
Food and Mealtimes in the Early Years also forms a whole unit (Unit 14) of the new Edexcel BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Children’s Play, Learning and Development (supported by the forthcoming Collins student textbook). This unit also emphasises the importance of working with parents in helping children to develop healthy eating habits and attitudes towards food.
Many of your learners will have studied food and nutrition on a variety of other courses and may already be familiar with the main principles of a balanced diet, the nutritional content of different foods and the role of different nutrients in the body. It can therefore be challenging to keep the topic fresh as well as specifically relevant to the early years. The School Food Trust (http://www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk) provides a wide variety of learning resources in addition to many of the current policies about food and nutrition in the early years, which I have found very useful.
The School Food Trust Guide “Eat Better, Start Better” (2012) provides a range of information about healthy eating for young children, including food choices and portion sizes. The Food Groups table (Download here) can provide a useful starting point for your learners to refresh their knowledge about the main food groups and nutrients. Working in pairs or small groups, learners could begin by completing the blanks in the table. This could be followed by the case study (Download here), where learners could analyse the food intake of a typical five year old and make suggestions for improvement. You could even ask your learners to keep a personal food diary and analyse their own food intake over a few days. I have often found this leads to a few surprises, with learners looking at ways to improve their own diet!
Another important focus for food and nutrition in the early years involves an awareness of individual dietary requirements, including cultural or religious restrictions and food allergies and intolerances, which are common in young children. The School Food Trust provides a comprehensive chart (Download here), which summarises some of the main religious dietary restrictions. Learners could use the chart as a reference tool to complete the associated task in planning meals and snacks for different children.
For more independent study, your learners could investigate different food allergies and intolerances at:
The same website also has a section on healthy eating recipes, which I have used with learners to research and create a fun recipe book for children.
With increasing concerns about childhood obesity, it is perhaps more important than ever for learners to be fully aware of their responsibilities in helping children to develop healthy eating patterns in the early years.
Janet Stearns, Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, former Lead Examiner for CACHE