LEYF opens the country's first early years chef academy

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London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) has today launched its Early Years Chef Academy, which aims to transform meals served to children in nurseries.

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LEYF's chefs and chief executive June O'Sullivan (third from right) offically opening the chef academy PHOTOS Isabelle Johnson / LEYF

The Stockwell-based academy, the only one of its kind in the early years sector, will offer the first specialist qualification for chefs either working or keen to work with children up to the age of eight.

The CACHE Level 2 qualification focuses on how to provide nutritious, balanced meals for young children and how to make them enticing while sticking to a nursery budget.

An ambition of the Academy is to deliver training to 80 chefs from both LEYF nurseries and other settings across London.

With statistics showing that one in five children are overweight when they start primary school, and one in three are overweight by the time they leave, LEYF is calling for its chef qualification to be ‘urgently’ introduced across all UK nurseries. Currently, there is no guidance and training for chefs responsible for cooking and serving nursery food.

According to LEYF, processed foods high in salt, fat, sugar and artificial additives, which are banned in schools, are still being served in early years settings.

LEYF’s nursery managers will also be encouraged to take up training on offer at the academy covering nutrition and providing supportive advice to parents on serving health food to their children.

The academy’s teaching kitchen has been funded by a grant from Guy’s and St Thomas’ charity and has received the support of Hilton Trust/Foundation, whose in-house chefs facilitated some of the modules in the chef qualification.

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Following the launch of the academy, this afternoon, LEYF’s chief executive June O’Sullivan hosted a live webinar on transforming healthy food for children.

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation, said, ‘As the UK is facing the biggest public health crisis of recent times and our children are getting fatter, it’s unacceptable that some nurseries are inadvertently adding to the problem by serving meals dangerously high in fat, salt and sugar – and we therefore need a radical wake up.

‘One of the biggest problems is a lack of knowledge and imagination among chefs about how to cook for children in group settings. The best way to embed a healthy food culture for children is to train those who cook. Children’s nutritional needs are quite different to adults and it’s imperative that we get this right. Every parent wants to know that their child is getting tasty, healthy and nutritious food and they need reassurance that the standards are of the highest quality.’

Jon Siddall, director of funding for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, said, ‘Our ten-year programme on childhood obesity aims to help children in our boroughs to achieve and keep a healthy weight by changing the environments in which they live, learn and play. Early years environments, like nurseries, are a key part of this.

‘Our work to date suggests food provision in nursery settings has shown a high level of influence on children’s diets. We think there’s significant room for improvement and an interest from those working within the settings to do more. The Chef’s academy will act as a launch-pad to better understand the needs of early years providers and opportunities to make these environments healthier.’

Senior manager of LEYF's Stockwell Gardens Nursery, Michelle Samuels, said, 'This is an exciting adventure that will guide the children of the nursery, parents and staff in ensuring that nutrition in the early years is at the forefront of all our mind. Having the chef academy within the nursery will open up conversations with parents about correct portions for children and why, for example, a bag of fruit is better than a bag of crisps. It’s about changing mindsets to change lifestyles and futures for our children’

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