16 Mar 2010,
The quality of food provided by nurseries and childminders varies hugely. We know of many settings with very high standards - the shortlisted entries in the Nursery Food category of our awards, for example, prepare delicious meals tailored to young children's nutritional needs, often sourced from local suppliers, and they involve children in growing and cooking food, and learning about how eating well helps them to be healthy, while making mealtimes a sociable and enjoyable occasion.
Yet in some settings, staff and parents still bemoan poor-quality meals, with a huge reliance on processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat. A combination of cost, convenience and lack of knowledge all play their part in allowing this to persist, as well as the lack of any mandatory standards for pre-school nutrition.
The School Food Trust's early years research, which will inform the work of the new advisory panel, says that guidance is available, but in practice, few nurseries feel that it is easy to access. Those with the best practice have often worked it out from scratch for themselves.
And as long as there are no mandatory standards, it will be difficult to bring about significant changes.
We all know that acquiring healthy eating habits in the earliest years of life is the smoothest path to a good diet in the long term. The School Food Trust has found improvements at primary school level - but how much greater would these be if pre-school nutritional regulations were in place?