Tucked away in the kitchen at Fennies nursery in Epsom, head chef Bebe Laudan cheerfully prepares lunch for 35 children. ‘I’m making thai green curry,’ she beams. ‘It’s laden with peas, which many children don’t like. But I’ve pureed them with coriander, and they make the green element of the dish. They love this meal, especially when it’s accompanied with chicken and a mix of brown and white rice.’
This dish is just one of 10 new recipes that have been introduced to children at Fennies over the past year, since it has become an approved member of the Early Years Nutrition Partnership (EYN Partnership). The initiative, which launched in May 2016, is a collaboration between the Early Years Alliance and the British Nutrition Foundation which is aimed at setting a national standard for early years nutrition in the context of growing obesity and poor eating habits in children.
‘I’ve re-written our menus in accordance with the nutritional guidelines provided by EYN Partnership and the bespoke advice we’ve received from our two dedicated nutritional professionals, who have trained our team of 11 chefs and all the room leaders and manager,’ explains Bebe, who has worked as head chef at Fennies, for 17 years. ‘It’s been so interesting and insightful – and great to have a structured system that caters for all allergies and food preferences throughout the group,’ she adds.
GOOD NUTRITIONAL PRACTICE
Good nutrition is critical for children’s rapid brain development, which is why Fennies has committed to ensuring that each of the group’s 11 settings have been awarded with the Quality Mark of approval from the EYN Partnership. To receive this status, the nursery group has to show evidence of embedding good nutritional practice into the entire provision, including training all nursery staff on how to encourage children to try new foods and make meals sociable and fun. Fennies are also proud to hold a 5-star hygiene rating at all of their onside kitchens. Bebe, who holds a level 2 City and Guilds in Catering and Hospitality, says, ‘Mealtimes are such a big part of life at Fennies. When I’m not in the kitchen, I love to watch the children enjoying the food I’ve cooked for them, knowing that it’s giving them the best nutritional start in life because it’s loaded with vegetables and pulses. It’s also great when the children pop in to see me and tell me how much they enjoyed their lunch.
‘Working together with the other chefs has also been great for morale and team bonding. We’ve had training days together where we’ve done role play exercises about good and bad foods and practical exercises where we put foods onto a plate to show the breakdown of what each child’s nutritional needs are each day,’ explains Bebe, who is about to embark on her level 3 training in nutrition and hydration, which is offered as part of the EYN Partnership.
New menus, which rotate on a six-monthly basis and have a four week-cycle, are devised by Bebe and rolled out to all 11 settings. Although the recipes are strictly adhered to, for allergen purposes, chefs have the opportunity to be involved in planning forthcoming menus. Bebe explains, ‘They email me with their suggestions for new recipes and ideas on how to add fruit or vegetables into the dishes. For example, chocolate and beetroot cake is a favourite, but baked goods containing sugar are only on the menu once a month, in favour of milk-based desserts like rice pudding or milk jelly.’
One of the main changes to the menus, since working with the EYN Partnership, is to include more pulses and beans in order to increase the children’s protein intake.
Jeff Laudan, who manages the kitchen staff says, ‘In the past, a pasta sauce may have included just tomatoes, for example. We now add beans or chickpeas or lentils to the dish. Oily fish is on the menu twice a week and more fruit and vegetables are available at snack and mealtimes.’
Chefs are a ‘very important’ part of the system in a busy nursery group, Jeff declares.
He adds, ‘We’re committed to providing quality, nutritious food and our chefs and kitchen staff support this. We are feeding some children three times-a-day, five times-a-week and we report back to parents what and how much their child has eaten.
‘Our chefs come from a range of backgrounds – some are housewives that have trained to be chefs; one is a former pastry chef; another was a kitchen assistant who trained to become a chef here. They all have a minimum of a level 2 in catering and a food hygiene qualification. They enjoy the hours – and not having to work weekends is a bonus. And they also get bank holidays off along with a week off at Christmas. But most of all, they all have a passion for cooking - and they cook from the heart.’
Dr Janet Aylott from the EYN Partnership had this to say about working with Fennies. “We have thoroughly enjoyed working across the whole Fennies group. Over 50 members of Fennies staff have been trained in nutrition and healthy eating for the under 5’s including members of the management team, nursery managers, room leaders, early years practitioners, chefs and kitchen assistants. This whole setting approach to nutrition has helped to shape many positive changes at Fennies from healthier, more varied menus to more hands on opportunities for learning about food, nutrition and health for the children. The enthusiasm of the staff to adapt and take on new challenges, and the willingness of parents to embrace the changes, has helped us to support Fennies to make fantastic progress”.