Healthy eating drive reports progress on changing habits

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Early years settings have helped more than 11,000 parents and carers to improve their families' diets since the Children's Food Trust launched its Eat Better, Start Better programme two years ago.

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Nurseries, children's centres and childminders in 25 local authorities have taken part in the programme since January 2012.

Through the scheme, funded by the Department for Education, the Children's Food Trust published the first ever nutritional guidelines to support early years settings to provide healthy meals. A scheme was also launched to offer training to nurseries and children's centres on how to run cooking sessions for families.

Since the programme started, early years settings have run more than 1,400 cooking sessions for families, according to the Children's Food Trust.

The cooking sessions are designed to improve families' awareness of the amount of salt, saturated fat and sugar in processed foods and takeaways, and teach parents and carers how to make healthier versions of their favourite recipes. The sessions also cover techniques for peeling and chopping, how to cook on a tight budget, batch cook and understand food labels.

Practitioners report that as a result of the cooking sessions, families that attended are choosing healthier versions of products and swapping ready meals and products for home-made versions to reduce their intake of salt and sugar.

The cooking sessions and other community food activities have proved so popular in some areas that parents have been asked to be put on a waiting list.

Dr Patricia Mucavele, head of nutrition at the Children's Food Trust, said, 'We're thrilled to mark Eat Better, Start Better's two-year anniversary with these tremendous figures.

'Seeing how many parents these settings have been able to reach, and the changes some families have gone on to make, it's clear that there is huge, untapped potential for the early years sector to lead the way in helping families to eat well and do more cooking from scratch.'

CASE STUDY: LAMPITS PRE-SCHOOL, ESSEX

p4leadcasestudyboxlampits-pre-schoolThe introduction of a cuddly monkey named Herbie to the Lampits Pre-school has helped encourage more parents to cook at home with their children.

Deputy supervisor Janice Kentish said, 'It all started with the Children's Food Trust's training. We wanted to find a way to get the cooking activities out to parents and the wider community. I came up with the idea of using a soft toy. We already have a teddy bear called Edward for children to take home on special occasions and that works very well.

'We told the children we had a monkey, which they named Herbie, who needed to learn to cook. Herbie goes home with a family for two sleeps, together with an overnight bag and diary so that they can record what they make together.

'We ask families to make a breakfast, lunch, dinner or something else with Herbie. Parents have cooked all kinds of foods, from spaghetti bolognese to fried yams. It's been great to see foods from different cultures cooked. Parents are fighting to take Herbie home.'

Ms Kentish says that the food diary introduces an element of healthy competition between families, as they can see what other parents have cooked.

She added, 'The Eat Better, Start Better programme has helped us expand on what we already do. Parents sometimes come into pre-school to listen to stories with their children, and we'll now incorporate a cooking activity too. Families might not sign up to join a cooking activity, but if its tagged on to something else, their children will get them involved.'

The pre-school is hoping to put together a cookbook full of parents' recipes to sell.