The Importance of Nutrition in the Early Years

Why is it important to get the right diet?
The vast amount of evidence demonstrating the importance of the relationship between nutrition and a child’s future health and development is undeniable. As well as poor nutrition being linked to an increase in instances of illness, diet also dramatically impacts on cognitive development.

Finding the perfect balance isn’t an easy task. Iron deficiency, for example, can cause a reduced movement in nerve impulses and is linked to behaviour changes, particularly in the first 2 years of a child’s life. However, too much iron can also cause major problems.

The unique position of early year’s providers
The 2014-2015 National Child Measurement Programme indicated that 1 in 5 children at school starting age were either overweight or obese. Pre-School providers are in a unique position to be able to help influence dietary habits and enable a healthier future for many youngsters. They have the ability to ensure children receive nutritious food for at least part of the week and have the ideal platform to educate them on the importance of a good diet whilst maintaining a positive attitude towards the topic.

Enhancing the nutrition practice of your setting
It is understandable that there is confusion surrounding best practice; not only do practitioners have to accommodate different cultural needs and possible allergies, but they are also up against the different views of parents. This is why it is important that managers feel confident in delivering the correct nutritional information and ensuring that this is presented to parents in an acceptable manner.

Important areas for consideration include:

How to provide a varied and balanced diet
Which food groups to include and how often to provide items from each group
Foods that should be encouraged
Foods that should be restricted
How to determine portion sizes
How to accommodate different dietary needs

A 2016 publication from the Public Health Agency called ‘Nutrition matters for the early years: Guidance for feeding under fives in the childcare setting’ covers all of these points in a straightforward, simple and utilisable booklet. This publication can be found here. The document also includes a very helpful 5 day sample menu which would meet a child’s daily nutritional requirements.

By making healthy eating exciting, a platform to educate opens. Treat mealtimes as a learning opportunity rather than a chore. Try using different recipes – healthy food doesn’t have to be boring! You could even take things a step further and take trips to kitchens, go food tasting or create a vegetable patch at your nursery. Not all settings have the same resources available to facilitate such activities but to just create a pleasant eating area with well presented food is a great start. By achieving and maintaining positive attitudes through such methods, it is likely that a knock on effect will occur where the child’s mind-set could, in turn, influence the decisions of parents.

Policies and Procedures
To adhere to the requirements of Ofsted, Local Authorities and the Department of Education, your policies and procedures document should include policies relating to food safety, food hygiene, nutrition and healthy eating, allergens, breast and bottle feeding and weaning. Here at Emplaw Solutions, as part of our service, we create bespoke nursery policies and procedures containing over 75 individual policies which are comprehensive, compliant and regularly updated. If you would like further information about this service, please email enquiries@emplawsolutions.co.uk 
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