Nursery World Awards 2020 - Health & Well-Being

Friday, February 5, 2021

The LEYF Early Years Chef Academy – London Early Years Foundation, London

With childhood obesity a persistent problem across the country, and strong links between unhealthy eating habits and poverty, staff at the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) nursery group have seen first-hand the benefits of education around food and nutrition.

During a Summer Club at LEYF Angel Pre-School, which is based on a housing estate in Westminster, children initially refused to eat the healthy food that was served to them because they couldn’t recognise the ingredients on the plate.

As a result, the LEYF chef at the nursery adapted the menu to make healthy versions of food the children were used to, and created meal packs that contained recipe kits and ingredients for the children to take home and cook with their parents.

To help support and recognise the work of chefs in nursery settings, the organisation launched the LEYF Early Years Chef Academy in 2019 with the understanding that the best way to embed a healthy food culture for children is to train those who cook, aiming to transform provision of nutritional meals across all London’s nurseries and put good healthy food on menus.

The CACHE Level 2 qualification is the only specific qualification for chefs working in settings with children up to eight years of age, and was designed to strengthen the important roles chefs play in educating staff and parents and influencing children’s healthy food choices. It offers practical training alongside classroom studies, focusing on how to provide and present nutritious, balanced meals for young children in a creative and enticing way within a nursery budget.

Modules include procuring the right foods, serving the right portions and using attractive presentation techniques, all taught in the Academy’s high-tech teaching kitchen at LEYF’s Stockwell Gardens Nursery & Pre-School, which was funded by a grant from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, with additional support from the Hilton Foundation.

The Academy works in partnership with London South East Colleges and all chefs achieve the Healthy Early Years London (HEYL) bronze award.

Chefs also support their nurseries by getting involved in action outside the nursery kitchen, including running parent cooking workshops, creating home learning recipe cards and meal packs for families, and growing fruit and vegetables in nursery gardens.

There is also an annual ‘Masterchef Challenge’ for LEYF chefs at the organisation’s annual conference.

LEYF has found healthy eating shows almost immediate improvement to concentration levels, energy and mood; with long-term positive effects including reduced risk of diabetes, improved dental health and positive mental health, and, as such, the purpose of the Chef Academy is to ensure that healthy eating habits are embedded at an early age so children continue to make healthy choices well into adulthood.

The first cohort of five internal LEYF chefs completed their qualification in July 2020 and six more will start in January 2021, with a plan to open up to external learners as well.

The long-term ambition for the LEYF Early Years Chef Academy is to deliver training for 80 chefs per cohort from both LEYF and other early years providers across London and the UK.


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Open to early years settings, services and projects that have worked to improve the physical health and/or emotional well-being of children, families and staff



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