What's on the menu?

Friday, November 19, 2021

In partnership with apetito: Using apetito is all about taking the stress out of nursery mealtimes. Find out how its varied and nutritious meal plans transformed the quality of food for a nursery in Hertfordshire.

Children enjoy apetito meals at Oxhey Early Years Centre in Watford.
Children enjoy apetito meals at Oxhey Early Years Centre in Watford.

Previously, Oxhey Early Years Centre in Watford, Hertfordshire was buying in meals from the local primary school, but handling the food was proving complex and staff were concerned that it did not meet the nutritional needs of the young children in their care. Parents were also unconvinced, and many chose to send their children with packed lunches rather than have the hot food option.

‘We wanted to change the menu three times a year according to the seasons and we wanted to provide both a hot lunch and hot tea for the children who are in full days, so we needed a large variety of meal options,’ explains Ela (pictured right).

She was recommended apetito – which specialises in providing food to the childcare, health and social care sectors – by early years managers in an online group. Elating researched the company and decided to try it out.

apetito visited the setting with a selection of pre-prepared frozen dishes for a tasting session and to demonstrate how to prepare and serve the food. There was some hesitation around buying in frozen food, with Ela saying there was the common misconception among staff and parents that it would not be as good quality. They were soon reassured that the apetito meals are designed by a dietitians and chefs and are carefully frozen to ‘lock in’ the nutrition and flavour.

That’s now more than a year ago and the children and staff continue to be happy customers.

‘Now 90 per cent of parents want their children to have the hot apetito meals because they have seen the good food that the children are being served,’ says Ela. ‘Parents like it that their child is getting hot, nutritional food at nursery.’

Over 2000 dishes – main meals and desserts – to choose from...
With apetito, the nursery has access to more than 200 different child- friendly dishes, which can be easily selected online using the ‘my apetito’ ordering platform, and gets the meals delivered weekly. They have a dedicated account manager who is available to answer any menu or delivery queries and also regularly checks in to ensure they are happy with the food – along with recommending new dishes and sending free samples.

‘Fish and chips was on the menu before and we did not feel this was good for us because we did not want to promote fried food in the nursery setting. Now we are consistently serving really good food,’ says Ela.

‘We have learned to tailor the food we order to our cohort of children because the menu is so flexible. This makes a massive difference because previously we could not alter the menu. We work on a three-weekly rotating menu for both lunch and tea, which is very important to us. So basically, we need 30 dishes in our termly menu and they need to be equally liked by the children, nutritious and rich in everything that children need for healthy growing.’

Staff and parents like it that the food is oven baked, rather than deep fried, and is rich in vegetables. ‘Providing children with nutritional food and talking about what is healthy and what is not is now part of the EYFS guidelines,’ Ela says. ‘We encourage the children to try a variety of dishes to introduce them to new flavours and textures.

‘At snack time, we also try to challenge them to try vegetables such as carrot, cucumber and celery rather than just bananas and apples. We want them to be used to a variety of tastes. Getting a healthy balanced diet, enriched with calcium and vitamin D, also promotes oral health.’

Ela reports that shepherd’s pie, fish pie and the roast chicken dinner are all very popular, along with all the pasta dishes. They find the pies very tasty and the cakes, which are low in sugar, taste homemade. The nursery even orders extra batches of food for the staff to eat ‘because it’s so yummy!’.

It is now rated as a low-risk environment by Environmental Health with a 5 star-star rating...
Each dish has the nutritional details and cooking instructions clearly displayed on the label. Most meals take between 30 to 60 minutes to heat from frozen and staff then simply probe the food to ensure it has reached the correct temperature before serving.

‘We have found that apetito works out a lot cheaper and also requires less people in the kitchen – it’s not as time and labour intensive and it’s been a huge cost saving for us,’ says Ela.

Staff are reassured that all the meals are guaranteed nut-free and they can select dishes according to children’s dietary requirements, including vegetarian, dairy-free and wheat-free.

An unexpected bonus is that, following a recent food hygiene inspection, the nursery found that its kitchen will not need to be inspected as frequently. ‘Using apetito has made our kitchen a low-risk environment; for example, we are not handling raw meat,’ explains Ela.

‘We received five stars on our inspection and will have less visits from Environmental Health – rather than every 18 months, they will now come every three years.’


■ Monday – Lunch: Main Fishcakes, or vegetarian Vegetable Crumble, served with Baby Potatoes and Broccoli. Dessert Vanilla Ice Cream. Tea: Main Vegetable Lasagne, vegetarian as above, served with Minted Summer Vegetables. Dessert Fruit.

Tuesday – Lunch: Main Penne Pasta in Tomato and Basil Sauce, vegetarian as above, served with Sweetcorn. Dessert Sponge Cake. Tea: Main Potato, Cheese and Leek Bake, vegetarian as above, served with Vegetable Medley. Dessert Fruit.

Wednesday – Lunch: Main Chicken in Gravy, or vegetarian Lentil and Flaky Topped Pie, served with Roast Potatoes and Mixed Vegetables. Dessert Fruit Cocktail.

Tea: Main Quiche Lorraine, or vegetarian Vegetable Quiche, served with Potato Wedges and Peas. Dessert Fruit.

Thursday – Lunch: Main Vegetarian Sausage Casserole, vegetarian as above, served with Rice and Carrots. Dessert Apple Crumble and Custard. Tea: Main Gammon and Pineapple, or vegetarian Baked Vegetable Pie, served with Baby Potatoes and Mixed Vegetables. Dessert Fruit.

Friday – Lunch: Main Beef Bolognaise, or vegetarian Lentil Bolognaise, served with Penne Pasta and Peas. Dessert Jelly.

Tea: Main vegetable and Coconut Curry, vegetarian as above, serve with Saute Potatoes and Green Beans

If you would like to arrange a tasting session or discuss how apetito can support your nursery, visit here
Or phone 01225 637692

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


© MA Education 2021. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved