Nursery meals 'lack energy', researchers find

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Initial results from a survey of nursery food in England have suggested that many settings may be giving children food that does not provide enough fat or energy.

The study was conducted by Trading Standards and highlighted as part of a BBC 'Panorama' investigation into food for the under-fives, shown on Monday. It found that of ten nurseries in Hampshire that volunteered to take part in the research, none were providing enough fat or energy in their meals.

The researchers also highlighted a shortage of oily fish and zinc, although the settings did win praise for keeping salt levels low.

The national results of the survey are due to be released in February.

Sue Powell, of Hampshire Trading Standards, said the focus on fruit and vegetables via initiatives such as the five-a-day campaign does not take into account the fact that growing children need a higher fat diet than adults.

Jacqui Horton of Woodlands nursery, which took part in the Hampshire study, said, 'The plate was being filled with those five fruit and veg for their pudding and their main, and we weren't putting enough energy on. The energy was on their plate, but just not enough of it.'

Last week, campaigners for healthier food in nurseries called for parents to post their experiences of junk food in daycare settings on a Facebook page, in a bid to pressure the Government into introducing new regulations.

The campaign, which has been dubbed 'undercover mums', is being operated by the Soil Association and organic food company Organix, which together launched the Better Nursery Food Now initiative in 2008 (News, 22 October 2008).

One poster on the Facebook page, who was named as Alex from Scarborough, said, 'I was horrified to see kids being given artificially sweetened squash to drink when I was in a local nursery doing some work there. I asked the staff if they were aware of the dangers of aspartame. Blank expressions told me the answer.' Cathy Higgins wrote, 'I just wanted to say there are some good nurseries out there! My daughter attended a council funded nursery and the quality of food there was very good.'

Neil Leitch, director of the Feeding Young Imaginations campaign by the Pre-School Learning Alliance, which seeks to address the lack of information and support for good early years nutrition, said, 'Our experience shows that many settings do an admirable job of providing healthy meals for children despite budgetary constraints, though we accept that in some areas there is still room for improvement.

'It would be more helpful if the organisations in question committed funding and resources to educating practitioners on how to serve nutritious food on a budget, rather than sending in teams of undercover parents to expose their shortcomings.'

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