Menus to be brought in for early years settings

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New food guidelines for nurseries and childminders are due to be published by the Government.

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New early years menus for childcare settings are due to be published

The 'scalable menus' for different settings have been drawn up by Public Health England (PHE), the Department for Education (DfE) and the Children’s Food Trust.

Speaking at the Westminster Food & Nutrition forum Keynote Seminar on food in schools and early years settings yesterday (29 June) Rachel Manners, nutrition advice team leader from the diet and obesity team at Public Health England, said, 'We've been working alongside the Children's Food Trust and Department for Education around developing early years menus, which are due to be published.

'Part of PHE’s role will be to help raise awareness among practitioners and parents, as well as support the implementation of the menus in settings, working with providers to see how the menus can be incorporated.'

Also discussed during the seminar, was the varying quality and nutritional value of food in schools, with concern expressed about academies that are exempt from the school food standards, as well as the content of children’s packed lunches.

While all maintained schools must adhere to the school food standards, they only apply to academies that were founded before 2010 and after June 2014. According to Stephanie Wood, founder and chief executive of School Food Matters, who spoke at the event, this leaves 3,986 schools where food goes unregulated.

She went on to reveal that the education secretary Justine Greening is to launch a campaign to encourage academies exempt from the school food standards to voluntarily sign up. However, she argued that the only way all academies will sign up is if legislation is brought in to make the food standards mandatory for all schools.

The Department for Education was unable to confirm the campaign.

Following a talk by the headteacher of Washingborough Academy, Jason O’Rourke, who spoke about the backlash he faced from parents after he banned all drinks other than water from his school, Ms Davies of School Food Matters went on to suggest the Government publish new national guidelines on packed lunches to give heads, who are having to police lunchboxes, ‘some welly to deal with the problem head on’.

Speaking at the seminar, she said, ‘It frustrates me that headteachers are policing packed lunches, they have better things to do with their days.

‘I would even say that guidelines don’t have to be mandatory. Just give headteachers something so they can say "I’m sorry, just read this." ’

The rate of funding for universal infant free school meals, set at £2.30 per meal, was also raised at the event, with speaker John Figgins, county catering service manager for West Sussex County Council, calling for the funding, which has not been increased since the policy was introduced in 2014, to be uprated. He said an increase is needed amid rising food and staff costs.

His call was backed by one of the chairs of the seminar, Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, who said she would raise the issue.

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