Nutrition - Glorious food!


The impressive efforts at enjoyable healthy eating being made by early years settings around the country are being revealed and rewarded in the Nursery Food Awards. Melanie Defries finds out about the winners.

The first-ever Nursery Food Awards have been hailed a great success by judges who received more than 70 applications and were impressed by the high standards of food on offer at the settings they visited.

CHILDSPLAY CLAREMONT

Childsplay Claremont Nursery Co-operative in Newcastle-upon-Tyne came first in the awards. At a ceremony held at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham in November it won £1,000 of Hobart kitchen equipment (news, 6 December). Judges said Childsplay had worked consistently for more than 20 years to give its children the best food possible.

Veronica Walsh, manager of Childsplay, says, 'We used the Caroline Walker Trust guidelines on nutrition to draw up our food policy, which is completely organic, and to guide our menus. We also used a software package called CHOMP to analyse the levels of vitamins and minerals in our food, and we sent our food policy to a dietician at Newcastle University who reviewed it for us.'

A typical menu at Childsplay is a morning snack of cream crackers and cream cheese, lamb bolognese with garlic bread for lunch, followed by dessert of creamed rice and raisins, and for tea, vegetable patties and tomato relish with toast and melon.

Mealtimes at Childsplay are social events. Children cook with staff on a weekly basis and help out with the preparation of food for snacks.

Judge Lizzie Vann, of children's food company Organix, who visited the nursery, says, 'It's really important that children enjoy their food from a young age, and the food at Claremont tasted great! It was wonderful to see the staff sitting with the children and encouraging them to enjoy their food together.'

The nursery also teaches children about growing food, with a vegetable patch, and recycling with a compost bin.

WILLOW COTTAGE

Willow Cottage Nursery in Farmoor, Oxford, was another nursery with cause to celebrate, after being named runner-up and winning £500 worth of kitchen equipment. Main courses at the nursery may feature five or six fresh vegetables within a single dish. Judges were impressed by children's knowledge of the food they were eating and by the amount of home-grown fruit and vegetables included in the meals.

Owner Valerie Grady says, 'We strive to provide the best for our children, so we look for low-mileage, organic, home-grown produce. We thoroughly believe that if you promote healthy eating in the early years, children will continue eating healthy food as they grow up.'

Children at Willow Cottage typically enjoy a morning snack of homemade breadsticks; lunch of cottage pie with vegetables and mashed potato, and dessert of fresh fruit salad and ice cream; and homemade carrot and parsnip soup for tea with bread and fresh fruit.

Judge Jeanette Orrey of the Soil Association says, 'All the children knew exactly what they were eating and the names of every fruit and vegetable. They all sat in little family groups with proper cutlery and tablecloths and turned lunchtimes into a proper dining experience.'

LITTLE MONKEY'S

Staff at family-run Little Monkey's Nursery in Windsor were also thrilled with being named runner-up.

Nursery director Linsey Lunney says, 'My mother is the chef of Little Monkey's and we're delighted she got recognition for all her hard work. Everything here is home-cooked using organic food and the menus have been developed to include lots of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals vital to children's development.'

A day at Little Monkey's might include a morning snack of homemade pancakes, lunch of pork and bean casserole with spring onion mash and homemade rice pudding for dessert, vegetable sticks and dip for afternoon snack, and roast beef and all the trimmings with fruit for afternoon tea.

Ms Lunney adds, 'We hide things children probably wouldn't eat on their own - such as aduki beans and soya beans, which are packed with nutrients - in recipes such as Moroccan lamb casserole. Parents agree that the children are happier and more content when they eat healthy food, and that when they eat junk food they become restless and agitated.'

Judge Annie Seeley, a nutritionist, says, 'It was great to see that food was incorporated into every aspect of the children's learning, from baking to vegetable printing, regular tastings, dining environment and last, but not least, the daily food provision.'

UEA NURSERY

The winner of the Organix Nursery Cookbook Award, for the best cookbook or recipes submitted by a nursery, went to the UEA Nursery at the University of East Anglia. All its food is vegetarian and prepared on the premises each day by chef Chris Avey, who has created recipes for meals such as spinach and feta lasagne, vegetable korma, pumpkin pizza and sweet potato and red bean tagine. UEA Nursery will see its cookbook transformed into a stylish website and published in book format.

COULD YOU BE A WINNER?

The Nursery Food Awards were launched in 2007 by Organix, in partnership with the Soil Association, and supported by Hobart and Nursery World. Staff members, parents and the general public were asked to nominate nurseries providing fresh, healthy and enjoyable food to children. Lizzie Vann says, 'There was a very high overall quality and it was extremely hard to choose a winner. Nurseries have been overlooked in the radical review of school meals that has taken place since 2005 and we were interested in how many were doing a good job. We have commissioned a report on the standard of food in nurseries, to be published in the spring, as we want to highlight the areas where nurseries need help.'

NURSERY FOOD AWARDS 2007
Winner: Childsplay, Claremont Nursery Co-operative, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Runners-up: Willow Cottage Nursery, Oxford
Little Monkey's Nursery, Windsor
Highly Commended: Independent Place, London E8
4 Street Day Nursery, Pinner, Middx
UEA Nursery, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Tall Trees Kindergarten, Frome, Somerset
Commended: The Oak Tree Nursery and Pre-School, Whitchurch, Hants
First Learning, Shepperton, Middx
Hopes and Dreams, London EC1
Red Balloon Day Nursery, Portsmouth
Natural Choice Nurseries, Alveston, South Glos
Nutfield Day Nursery, Nutfield, Surrey
Busy Bees Day Nursery, St Albans
The Honey Pot, Nottingham
The Kiddies Day Nursery, South Kidderminster
Busy Bees at Farrington, Chislehurst
Places for Children, Newcastle
Child First, Northampton
Organix Nursery Cookbook Prize: UEA Nursery, University of East Anglia,
Norwich
(pictured are celebrity chef Paul Rankin and manager of Childsplay
Veronica Walsh)

WHAT THE JUDGES LOOKED FOR
- Good nutrition: the judges used the Caroline Walker Trust publication
Eating Well for Under Fives in Child Care as a guide.
- A good food policy
- Little or no processed food
- Involving children in cooking/food preparation
- Tasty food!
- Not too many sugary puddings
- High-quality protein and oily fish
- Nurseries doing their best to source seasonal, local and organic foods
and working to nutritional guidelines
- Incorporating learning about food and health into the nursery day
- A good eating environment for the children
- Engaging with parents
- Working with the wider community

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