Settings in the least affluent areas are best at meeting national guidelines on fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and oily fish and the avoidance of sugary drinks, according to research from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research, CEDAR, based at the University of Cambridge.
The author of the study, Dr Sara Neelon, said the study showed 'a strong commitment by nurseries in more deprived areas to promote the health of the children in their care'.
The study also showed most of the 851 nurseries surveyed are serving fruit daily (92 per cent), but 30 per cent of settings are still not serving vegetables at least once per day. The serving of fizzy drinks is less than 1 per cent.
Patricia Mucavele, Children's Food Trust head of nutrition, which produced the guidelines and trains early years staff in how to use them, said that the overall picture was reassuring. She said, 'The findings from the survey should be reassuring to parents as nursery managers reported serving food and beverages consistent with many of the guidelines.'
The findings on fruit mirror those from the trust's previous research, but the vegetable data is 'surprising' said Dr Mucavele, 'since vegetables are often provided in composite dishes such as spaghetti bolognese, stews, and curries'.
She added, 'The guidelines say provide oily fish at least once every three weeks, but not more than twice each week ... the proportion of nurseries providing oily fish is relatively low (28 per cent) compared to the findings from the trust's (nutrition training) programme. After providing the settings with the rationale for the guideline, the provision of oily fish increased.'
In terms of the reason nurseries in deprived areas fare better, she added that 'it was worth noting' that the trust targets deprived areas specifically under its training programme. Trust data shows that the impact of this training is to 'increase significantly' the number of guidelines that are fully met.
The study also addressed how widely used the guidelines are. It found that 56 per cent of managers say they 'primarily sought nutritional guidance from national reports'. A further 18 per cent said they accessed information 'via the internet'. Out of the 56 per cent, just 12 per cent said they referred to the guidelines as their primary source of nutritional information.
But Dr Mucavele said, 'This proportion of nurseries using the guidelines could be an underestimate as the guidelines can be accessed via the internet We know that national early years organisations have developed guidance using the trust's guidelines as a basis; likewise, health care professionals such as nutritionists, dieticians and health visitors use (them).'
She added that part of the reason for the move towards training settings in how to use the guidelines was to help give clearer understanding of the importance of nutrition to parents. Health visitors are trained in one way, while some early years staff would receive minimal training: parents would get a lot of mixed messages.'
- See the feature on the CEDAR research in Nursery Food, free with this issue.