Nursery Food: Training - Know your onions

Ruth Thomson
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What options are available for nutrition training, and how can practitioners best develop the skills they need? Ruth Thomson investigates.

Early years training in children's food needs to extend far beyond basic food hygiene courses to incorporate a wide range of subjects, from child nutrition and weaning to dealing with food allergies and managing mealtimes, say nursery managers committed to delivering high-quality food for under-fives.

What settings need to aim for, says Jane Harrison, director of Red Hen Day Nursery in Lincolnshire, Nursery World's Nursery of the Year 2013, is for children's diet and well-being to become 'part of the culture of the setting and daily practice'.

Much can be achieved through in-house training, she adds. 'Nutrition is a very complex subject. However, basic knowledge can be disseminated to both staff and children during cooking activities and mealtimes. More depth of information can be shared by the chef or cook. Extra information about food and nutrition should always be easily accessible in the staffroom and via meetings.'

However, with different staff requiring different skills and levels of expertise, training often involves mixing in-house training with locally available or bespoke courses and professional qualifications.

The Elmscot Group in Altrincham, Cheshire, is a chain with three nurseries and seven out-of-school clubs. There, all staff attend food hygiene courses, while in-house training on the company's food and mealtimes policy is used as an opportunity to develop practitioners' understanding of the nutritional needs of young children. Baby room staff attend a weaning course, and all staff attend specialist food allergy and intolerance training - delivered in-house and led by a qualified dietician.

Cooks also receive practical in-house training alongside special training workshops on subjects such as catering for children who are vegetarian - in this instance, a bespoke course delivered by the Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert Vegetarian Cookery School.

The company has also found Trafford's Healthy Setting Award - based on the Healthy Schools Scheme - an effective way of increasing staff knowledge and standardising quality across the group.

Director Stephanie Molnar says, 'The key to training is to get a dietician on board and involve the entire team in all aspects of food provision where practicable, so the importance of good nutrition is understood at every level. We've got a really close relationship with dietician Sue Pavey, who reviews and approves our food policy and menus regularly and helps deliver our training, as she can tailor courses to make them taskor age-specific.'

Training extends even to parents. She adds, 'We invite parents to our in-house training courses, so they too can understand the issues, ask our dietician questions and see how important it is to our organisation to get it right as they see the staff in training.'

Other chains that have developed their own training schemes include Busy Bees, which offers its chefs a six-month training programme on early years nutrition, addressing areas such as Nutrition for the Under-fives, Menu Planning and Promoting Healthy Eating.

However, CACHE is planning to introduce a national qualification that will plug the current training gap in early years catering. Due to be launched next January, the Level 2 Diploma in Food Production and Cooking in Early Years (QCF) will be aimed at, among others, nursery cooks and childminders.

CACHE chief executive Rob Wye says, 'This new, exciting qualification will allow those working with children to develop their knowledge and skills when producing food for the under-fives. With nutrition advice provided by the Children's Food Trust, this qualification will provide early years and health practitioners with the specialist food preparation and nutrition knowledge they need to meet national best practice and to produce delicious, healthy food for children in their vital early years.'


Despite the savage cuts to local authority budgets, settings may find that they don't have to bear all the cost of staff training in nutrition. More than 30 authorities have already committed to help settings to meet the Eat Better, Start Better's Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings in England.

Claire Rick, spokesperson for the Children's Food Trust (CFT), says, 'We continue to have lots of very positive conversations with local authorities keen to invest in nutrition training for early years - with a focus on training that's based on evidence and which delivers the public health outcomes they want in communities.

'There's a huge amount of energy and commitment out there to make sure those working in early years have the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to get children off to a good start with food. Just one example is the new Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives: A Better Start funding, for which a shortlist of 15 councils are currently developing plans that will include nutrition as an outcome.'

Meeting a setting's wider training needs on children's food has also become more achievable, thanks to short and affordable online training courses launched this month by CFT.

The three courses, endorsed by CACHE, are:

  • Providing a Healthy Diet for Young Children
  • Meeting the Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings, and
  • Encouraging Young Children in Your Care to Eat Well.

The courses can be accessed via the charity's Learning Network, which was launched in July with the aim of becoming an online information and training hub for everyone providing healthy food for children.

'We're responding to the need for alternative ways to train,' says CFT spokesperson Ms Rick. 'Budgets and time are tight, making it harder to release staff for training, so the network is there to give early years staff the chance to access quality, affordable training without leaving their setting or home.

'All the courses can be worked through at your own pace, at a time and place convenient to you. A record of your learning is kept and at the end of each course there is an assessment of 15 questions. If you pass, you receive a certificate of achievement.'

Annual membership to the network costs £108 for an individual, but there are discounts for employers buying bulk memberships, bringing the cost down to as little as £32 per person.

New courses of 45-90 minutes in length, split into modules lasting five to ten minutes, will be added throughout the year, as will webcasts, including some from Masterchef semi-finalist and former nursery chef, Sophie Atkins-Ward. Subscribers will also have access to a forum for sharing best practice.

Mr Wye says, 'We're pleased to endorse the Learning Network's early years training courses. Completing these courses will provide early years and health practitioners with the nutrition knowledge they require to meet national best practice.'


Some training options to consider are:

  • Local authorities Training may still be available despite budget cuts.
  • Local initiatives Liverpool Nursery Nutrition Programme supports local settings through its 30-hour Food and Nutrition in Early Years course, developed and delivered by Liverpool John Moores University. A six-hour nutrition course for childminders is starting in November. Healthy under-fives award schemes operate in various areas, among them Trafford, Bedfordshire and Tameside and Glossop. Some are linked to national initiatives (see also page 4).
  • Professional organisations National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Nutrition and Healthy Eating online training course (£24 for NDNA members and £32 for non-members) covers key legislation, food groups, nutrients, oral health and drinks, diets and allergies, menu planning and food hygiene. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years recently launched online Basic Food Hygiene courses (£32.65), one for nursery staff, the other for childminders and nannies. The Pre-school Learning Alliance runs a similar course in conjunction with EduCare. It also works with the Infant and Toddler Forum and runs its Ten Steps for Healthy Toddlers programme in some of its childcare settings.
  • Local professionals Dieticians can develop in-house training for your setting. Go it alone or link up with other settings to make bespoke training more affordable. Local cookery schools might also be able to provide bespoke courses.
  • Early years qualifications CACHE Level 2 Diploma in Food Production and Cooking in Early Years (QCF) should be available from January (see left). City and Guilds, Edexcel and OCN London offer Level 2 Award in Promoting Food Safety and Nutrition in Health and Social Care or Early Years and Childcare Settings (QCF).
  • Training companies Acorn Childcare Training runs various courses including Allergy and Intolerance and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Level 2 Award in Healthier Food and Special Diets. HENRY focuses on combating childhood obesity by working with parents; Squash Nutrition offers Creative Food and Environmental Well-being Training.


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