It is not just the fact that all of Little Monkey's meals are home-cooked and made from the finest ingredients that puts the nursery in the Michelin star class. What really impresses the judges is the flair and imagination of its menus, which alternate familiar fare such as cottage pie with more exotic dishes such as Singapore noodles and sushi. This culinary expertise was recognised last year with a Nursery World Nursery Food award.
Children enjoy breakfast, two snacks, two hot meals and two puddings each day and no two weeks' menus are ever exactly the same.
Co-owner Linsey Lunny is passionate about nutrition and believes that this focus on diet is absolutely key to children's wellbeing. 'It enables them to enjoy their nursery day to the full, because they are getting sustained energy levels from what they are eating,' she says. 'They don't have dips and troughs, because their blood sugar stays at the right level.'
GROW YOUR OWN
Little Monkey's Nursery is very much a family business with a homely ethos. Linsey Lunny and her mother Janis Crutch launched the first nursery in Windsor town centre along with Janis's other daughter, Lisa. A second site, Windsor Park, opened in 2008.
The two nurseries provide very different environments. The town centre nursery is in a flat-fronted Georgian house, described by Janis as being like a 'Tardis' because it offers a surprising amount of space over three floors for its 35 children. The Windsor Park nursery, which has 41 children on roll, is housed in a single-storey, former Victorian school, which has big gothic windows and plenty of indoor and outdoor space.
Linsey and Janis were spurred on by the success of the first nursery to expand their business. 'There are still relatively few nurseries in Windsor and we saw a strong opportunity to launch a second site,' Janis says. 'The former Old Spital School was perfect for our needs, although a lot of work had to be carried out when we acquired it - the building was virtually derelict, with a tramp in residence and an outdoor area that was just a mass of brambles.
'Inside, we lowered the ceiling and put in new walls and we now have a wonderful, light and airy space. Last year we gained capital funding to transform the outdoors and it's now landscaped and fully resourced, with a forest school area.'
Growing seasonal fruit and vegetables is a focus for the garden. 'We have been growing carrots, tomatoes, green beans and herbs,' says Janis. 'I just recently planted some raspberries and we are beginning to see some leaves appearing around the canes. Our outdoors backs on to an allotment and the children have a great relationship with the owners who work it.
'Children love the fact that what we grow goes into the food they eat. When they pick fruit to go into crumbles or pies, they are always keen to know if they are eating the particular piece of fruit they picked!'
RECIPES FOR SUCCESS
Both nurseries boast well-equipped kitchens that are accessible for the children. No food is frozen except for peas, ice cream and yoghurt, and the nursery does very little bulk buying.
'We worked closely with the Catherine Walker Trust to develop our menus, and we like to encourage the children to be as adventurous as possible,' says Janis. 'We don't use salt or white sugar at all. We look for alternatives, such as brown rice syrup which we have been using to make flapjacks, and spelt pasta, which is easier to digest and has more protein than the wheat variety.'
She adds, 'Although we spend a lot on ingredients, we have good portion control and we waste very little food. Children serve themselves at meals and there are seconds for the older ones if they want it. Staff also enjoy eating the food!'
Linsey acknowledges the fact that the nursery does spend a particularly large proportion of its budget on its food, but feels it is worth it. 'On a per-head basis, our food expenditure is high, but we are committed to the best quality food and we know our children and parents really appreciate it.
'Apart from the nutritional advantages, they recognise the benefits of meals being a social occasion and giving children an un-fussy approach to eating.'
In fact, the quality of food is an object of envy as far as adults are concerned - with testimonies on Little Monkey's website highlighting that many parents wish they were in a position to enjoy such healthy, interesting meals during their working day.
CLAIRE OGILVIE, MANAGER, LITTLE MONKEY'S NURSERY WINDSOR PARK
'The atmosphere here is very homely and every member of staff knows each child really well. We have a low turnover of staff, and we arrange our rotas so we do not have to use anyone who is temporary.
'The menus that Janis plans provide a good talking point with parents and help us to work in partnership with them. We have quite a few children with dietary requirements due to allergy or preference, and the cooks at both nurseries always aim to create a dish that looks as similar as possible to the food the other children are eating. Where special foods are prepared, Janis often makes extra portions so parents can take a batch home with them, which is really appreciated. It is also helpful that the menus highlight how many portions of fruit and vegetables children are eating each day.
'This year will be a busy one for us. In September we are planning to build a new pre-school in an additional structure next to the existing nursery and this will enable us to take a total 24 of pre-school children. The town centre nursery is also gaining a new pre-school by acquiring the building next door. In the meantime, Little Monkeys is looking at the possibility of publishing its own cookbook!'
Caroline Walker Trust, www.cwt.org.uk
Nursery World AWards 2011
If your setting has a fantastic approach to providing food, why not enter this year's Nursery World Awards at www.nurseryworldawards.com