Launching next year, the three-year project is a joint venture between the Pre-School Learning Alliance, the British Nutrition Foundation and the Danone Ecosystem Fund, which is providing funding for the first year.
Under the pilot project, networks of nutritionists will be created across the country to provide ongoing nutritional support and guidance to early years practitioners and chefs.
The aim of the networks is to provide nurseries, childminders and schools operating childcare provision with the tools they need to support children and their parents to understand the importance of nutrition.
Settings that take up the support will also have the opportunity to gain an endorsed nutrition quality mark.
Each nutritionist will promote their service - a package of tailored resources, training and support - to settings and providers in their area. The Alliance will support this through its membership network.
There will be financial support for each nutritionist to develop and sustain their network in the early phases of the project.
The first network will launch in January 2016. This will be followed by a rolling programme of expansion over the three years.
It is hoped after this time that the project will become self-sustaining. The Alliance will be looking at potential social investment models to support the infrastructure.
The development of the project follows a survey of 1,000 practitioners by the Alliance, in which a quarter cited difficulties in sourcing accessible and accurate information about nutrition as a barrier to providing good early years nutrition in their settings. Parents' poor understanding of nutrition issues was also cited as a barrier.
Just 28 per cent of respondents said they are currently receiving nutritional advice. Of those, more than half receive advice from their local authority. Other sources include the Children's Food Trust, public health professionals and the Infant and Toddler Forum.
The survey also highlighted how food provision varies in settings. More than 38 per cent of respondents said they don't provide meals. Of these, some receive meals from a private company, local authority or partner school.
It also revealed the extent to which settings provide food. While more than 93 per cent provide children with snacks only half provide lunch, 41 per cent provide breakfast and 26 per cent provide dinner.
Cottingley Pre-School in West Yorkshire, Witham Nursery near Chelmsford and Mother Goose Childminding Services in Wembley were among those that responded to the survey, and that will take part in the pilot after winning a place through the Alliance's free prize draw.
Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Alliance, which is currently in the process of putting together an operational structure for the project, said, 'All childcare providers have to ensure they support children and their parents to understand the importance of nutrition, so it is a universal issue, but support needs to be tailored to each settings' circumstances.
'As our survey showed, food provision within settings varies enormously, ranging from those who do not make food on site themselves to settings that prepare three meals a day.'
- For more on early years nutrition, see our Nursery Food supplement, free with the latest issue of Nursery World.