23 Sep 2017, Liz Roberts
The kitchen is physically at the heart of The Mulberry Bush nursery and is central to its caring ethos.
As one parent says, ‘The love and acceptance my son is shown within this setting is second to none. And the food, well, it’s exceptional. Everything is brought in fresh from local butchers, greengrocers and from The Mulberry Bush’s own garden, which the children have helped to plant. The chef, Carol, prepares everything daily from scratch and her menus are extremely varied and nutritious.’
‘My son raves about the food he is served and often asks me to recreate dinners the chef has prepared. He is trying things he never before would have thought of trying’—Parent
With the kitchen’s direct access to both the toddler and pre-school rooms, children enjoy watching Carol prepare their meals through the hatch. She is clearly key to the nursery’s success in encouraging all children to eat well, working closely with individual families to ensure that children’s dietary requirements are met.
Judges praised the food policy devised by owners Rachael and Oliver Thomson, which draws on the National Food and Nutrition Survey findings to improve children’s diets. Nutrition is embedded into everyday practice, from the way staff plan menus, procure food, and manage dietary requirements to staff training and children’s activities.
The Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings in England are used as a framework for The Mulberry Bush’s two four-week seasonal menus, which include meat and fish, and a vegetarian menu. The nursery owner and cook, with support from a dietitian, plan the menu together to ensure it is varied and balanced.
Food is sourced from the local butcher, fishmonger and fruit and vegetable supplier.
Carol is careful when it comes to reading food labels and checking that ingredients are low in salt, saturated fat and sugar. She regularly uses wholemeal and higher-fibre alternatives, and modifies recipes to reduce or cut out added sugar. All staff know where the food is procured, and assist the catering staff in monitoring waste.
Despite its relatively small space, The Mulberry Bush has created multiple enabling environments that provide opportunities for children to learn about, and experience, the whole food supply chain – from growing to preparing and cooking food. Children of all ages are given an opportunity to plant, pick and eat vegetables from the garden and understand why they are good for them. On the day of our judges’ visit they were preparing their own snacks of lentil patties.
There is certainly nothing bland or colourless about the food that Mulberry Bush serves. As its consultant nutritionist, Rebecca Weeks, says in her recent review, ‘One aspect of the menu at the Mulberry Bush that I particularly like is the flavours and colourful ingredients they use, which are a refreshing change to some of the bland meals often seen at nurseries and schools.’
She adds, ‘It would be wonderful to see Rachael and Oliver, along with their dedicated team, receive recognition with this award, for their passion and commitment to good-quality food in the nursery setting.’
Kids Planet Greenbank Park, Liverpool
The nursery consulted with parents, one who was a nutritional dietician and one a restaurant owner, to devise exciting new menus. Pre-school children give their verdicts at their regular committee meetings. Mealtimes are geared towards promoting children’s independence, and they serve themselves, as well as peeling their own fruit at self-service snack time.
A cookery club helps children to learn about different foods, and they make their own packed lunches to take to picnics in the park, having gone to the local shops to pick their ingredients. The nursery chef has created recipe cards for parents so that they can cook nursery meals at home, with crusted cod and smoked mackerel pâté proving popular.
Coin Street Community Builders, London
Honey Pot Nurseries, Liverpool
Open to early years settings whose approach to and provision of nutritious food promotes children’s health and well-being