How does food fit into life at your nursery, pre-school or children's centre, or into your day as a childminder? I know we'd all agree that it's a beautiful - albeit messy - pleasure to see children trying new foods, learning to use their cutlery and starting to suss out the fun of eating and cooking with other children. But do you also think of mealtimes as a chore to be managed, part of the ebb and flow of your day ... even (dare we say it) the last hurdle before naptime?
Of course, mealtimes are part of everyday life, but for young children they're a crucial part of their earliest development. Their tastes and eating habits form early, but the impact of diet for children's growth, health and academic achievement lasts a lifetime.
The most recent national dietary survey suggests some children aged from one to five have low intakes of fruit and vegetables, and micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron and zinc, with high intakes of salt, saturated fat and sugar. This is affecting children's health, with one in five children overweight or obese as they start school, type 2 diabetes now occurring in children, and one in eight three-year-olds suffering from tooth decay.
The National Children's Bureau's recent report looking at measures including child obesity and tooth decay found that just by growing up in a certain part of England a child under five is more likely to have poor health that will have an impact on the rest of their lives.
There's a window of opportunity for improving children's nutrition. The 1,000 days between conception and a child's second birthday are when children are in greatest need of adequate amounts of nutritious food.
And with just under 1.3 million registered early years places in England and an increasing number of full daycare places, notwithstanding the Government's pledge to launch 30 hours of free childcare for threeand four year-olds, you have a unique and powerful opportunity to help children get off to a healthy start with food. No pressure, then.
So we're delighted to be working with Nursery World to launch the country's first national survey of food in childcare. There's some incredible practice out there: menus that would give expensive restaurants a run for their money for flavour, diversity, colour and texture; sessions inspiring children and their families to cook from scratch; and policies on nutrition that would put many a health champion to shame. But there's simply not enough credit given to the nurseries, pre-schools, children's centres and childminders helping to give children the foundations of a good diet for life.
We want to hear all about your approach to food and how you make it happen, and about the challenges you face in getting great food to children and encouraging them to eat well. What's making that task harder? What would help you create the mealtime experience you want for children? And we're particularly interested in two big topics: your kitchen facilities, and how you think the Government's 30 hours pledge will affect how you provide food.
The kitchens and dining spaces you have to work with can really shape the experience children have. We've been making the case for better investment in school kitchens and dining rooms for many years now, but infrastructure challenges for the early years sector are unique. Is your kitchen up to the job? Do you have the space you need to serve your children well? What would help you improve your kitchen and dining facilities, if you need to?
While Government develops its plans for the 30 hours free childcare pledge, we want to make sure the costs and logistics of providing food for many more children over a longer day are being factored in. That's where your views are critical: tell us how you think the policy will affect the way you provide food and the children in your care.
Children's Food Trust/Nursery World survey
The survey won't take you long, but the information you share will help us get the first comprehensive, national picture of the highs and lows of providing food in early years settings. It's also completely anonymous. Please take the time to respond by 30 November: the more responses we get, the better the picture we'll have. You can respond to the survey at http://svy.mk/1M5x2sS.
Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency (2014). National Diet and Nutrition Survey Results from Years 1, 2, 3 and 4 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009 – 2011/2012). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-diet-and-nutrition-survey-results-from-years-1-to-4-combined-of-the-rolling-programme-for-2008-and-2009-to-2011-and-2012
Health and Social Care Information Centre (2014). National Child Measurement Programme - England, 2013-14 school year. Available at: www.hscic.gov.uk/searchcatalogue?productid=16565&q=title%3a%22national+child+measurement+programme%22&sort=Relevance&size=10&page=1#top
Haines L, Wan KC, Lynn R et al. (2007) Rising incidence of type 2 diabetes in children in the U.K. Diabetes Care 30: 1097–101.
Public Health England (2013) Dental public health epidemiology programme Oral health survey of three-year-old children 2013 A report on the prevalence and severity of dental decay http://www.nwph.net/dentalhealth/Oral%20Health%205yr%20old%20children%202012%20final%20report%20gateway%20approved.pdf
Save the Children (2012) Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days State of the World’s Mothers 2012
Ofsted (2014) Registered childcare providers and place in England December 2014 www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/registered-childcare-providers-and-places-england-december-2008-onwards