Exclusive: Children's Minister Dawn Primarolo on the nursery food review

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Whilst the majority of nurseries and childminders are doing a fantastic job providing healthy, balanced and nutritious food for young children, there is more work to be done to ensure that standards are high across the board.

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Giving toddlers and young children a healthy start in life is crucial to their future development,
well-being and achievement at school. We know that promoting healthy lifestyles early on can reduce the risk of health problems, cut childhood obesity and establish positive habits that will last into adulthood.

Encouraging children to eat healthily and have an active lifestyle is a responsibility shared by parents, carers and those who work in nurseries and childcare settings.

Whilst the majority of nurseries and childminders are doing a fantastic job providing healthy, balanced and nutritious food for young children, there is more work to be done to ensure that standards are high across the board.

I know that there have been recent campaigns highlighting gaps in standards of nursery food and varying levels of quality. A new Summary Report by the School Food Trust also suggests that whilst there is a range of guidance available to nurseries, there is more we could be doing to provide young children with good-quality, healthy meals.

That’s why this week I announced a review of current standards on nursery food, led by a new Advisory Panel on Food and Nutrition in Early Years. The Panel, supported by the School Food Trust and chaired by Dr Anthony Williams, a leading Consultant Paediatrician, will work closely with early years professionals across the sector. It will consider what good practice exists, what more needs to be done and whether new or mandatory standards on food and drink in nurseries should be introduced.

While obesity levels have levelled off in young children, there are still too many children starting school overweight. We know from evidence that the new standards for school food are having a positive impact on young people’s development.

The new Advisory Panel will look at what we can learn from the changes that have been made in schools and how we can apply these lessons to the early years sector. The Panel is due to report on its recommendations in August, in time to feed in to the wider review of the Early Years Foundation Stage, which begins in September.

We are committed to providing the support, guidance and information early years practitioners need on early years nutrition. Improved guidance is now available for nursery staff with tips and good practice on providing healthy and nutritious food for young children. I encourage you to make use of this guidance and share best practice with your colleagues.

But we know there’s only so much nurseries and schools can do. Parents must play a key role in promoting positive eating habits and healthy lifestyles for their children.

That’s why the Government has invested in the Change4Life campaign, which is successfully giving families with young children information and advice on how they can get their kids to eat well and stay active.

We are also targeting parents through our Cook4Life campaign – running in Sure Start Children’s Centres throughout the North West and South West to teach cooking skills to parents. Sixty centres are participating in the pilot, which includes cooking lessons for all the family, encouraging children’s involvement from an early age.

In addition, in the past year, we have strengthened the Healthy Child Programme for birth to five years old. This programme, lead by health visitors, provides health checks, development reviews and parenting guidance at various stages of early childhood.

We also launched Start4Life in November, which is a new strategy to address childhood obesity and health inequalities. It supports parents with children up to the age of two in establishing good feeding and activity habits from the outset.

Finally, I know that the majority of childminders and nursery staff are incredibly committed and there is fantastic work being done across the country to give children a healthy start in life. Indeed, recent Ofsted ratings found that the majority of early years providers were good or outstanding in relation to providing a healthy diet and say that child carers have embraced the concept of healthy eating.

I’m sure that this will continue as we look to strengthen the current standards on food in nurseries.

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