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National food and drink guidelines

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How will the National Food and Drink Guidelines affect my child in school or nursery?

We are all hearing reports and statistics about how childhood obesity is spreading and the links between diet and behaviour may be impacting our children in school and no-one can forget Jamie Oliver’s school meals crusade! As a result, the revised Early Years Foundation Stage framework has included the requirement to provide healthy, balanced and nutritious food and drink which describe the kinds of nutrition that should be provided in snacks and meal times for children between the age of 1 and 5 and so National Food and Drink Guidelines have been developed.

Sensible eating

Establishing a healthy relationship with food and mealtimes is essential for a growing child and encouraging healthy eating habits should be started as soon as possible. It can play a pivotal role in a child’s development both at school and in later life and children should develop their knowledge of a healthy and varied diet both at home and in the early years setting. The guidelines are based on food groups and quantities and also include ideas for meal planning, food safety and snack times. Even though the Food and Drink Guidelines are voluntary, all early years’ settings are encouraged to follow them. Once your child is over 5, the school will then have to comply with the National Standards for School Food regulations which are compulsory for all.

Who does this affect?

A school or early years setting is classed as a pre-school, nursery within a primary school, children’s centre, registered child minder, nanny, private, voluntary or independent nursery and sessional settings such as playgroups. Any setting that isn’t regulated is also encouraged to follow the guidelines when planning meals and snacks.

Some schools or nurseries that are providing meals or snacks for children under 5 may not have facilities to provide hot meals, in which case they should still be able to follow the guide for food groups to be used, snacks and cold meal options. The guidelines give examples of cold meal options which can be incorporated into the menu so that your child is still benefiting from the health and nutritional aspects. There are even suggestions for packed lunches and examples of food which can be used. Even schools or early years’ settings that don’t provide meals only snacks, should still be encouraged to follow section four of the guidelines which only apply to snacks and drinks.

food and drink guidelines

Taking responsibility

Meal times differ greatly between schools and early years settings and while some may offer a full menu of hot and cold food and include snacks, other’s may not offer any food choice at all and it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their child has a healthy and varied diet. While the guidelines are not law, some schools and settings may wish to send guidance home to parents as part of their food policy. This isn’t designed to dictate what you feed your child, but to help you choose and provide appropriate food and give you idea’s on what you can include in your child’s lunchbox to keep a healthy, nutritious and varied diet.

Parts of the guidelines include recommendations around starchy or fried food and advise that these aren’t provided to children more than once at lunch time and once at tea time. These types of food would be roast potatoes, wedges, chips, fried rice or manufactured food which has been fried such as potato waffles, turkey burgers, and smiley faces etc. All of these can be high in starch and saturated fat. A more healthy option is to prepare food from scratch wherever possible so that fat, salt and starch content can be monitored better. In which case, even though a roast potato is classed as starch, it is better to offer that as part of a roast dinner instead of a processed potato shape option.

Your child may attend a nursery or early years setting that is part of a larger school setting. Lunches that are provided to children under 5 should follow the School Food Regulations which state that food from each food group should be provided as part of lunch every day and although the National Food and Drink Guidelines aren’t compulsory, schools and early year’s settings are encouraged to follow them. Then once your child reaches 5 years old, you should expect the school to follow the national standard for school food.

Developing healthy eating patterns in our children from a young age can only help them develop healthy attitudes towards food in adulthood and eating the correct diet can provide the basis for great academic achievement, so should be encouraged from nursery through to secondary schooling.



About Rebecca Robinson

About Rebecca Robinson

After spending the last 8 years juggling life as a mum of two, wife and working full time as a Project Manager for a global telecommunications company, Rebecca Robinson made the decision to follow her love of writing and took the plunge; turning her passion into a full time career. Since becoming a full time writer, Rebecca has worked with various media and copy-writing companies and with the ability to make any topic relevant and interesting to the reader, now contributes to The Working Parent on articles ranging from credit cards to teenage relationships. Ever the optimist, Rebecca's dreams for the future include a house in the country filled with children, dogs and horses in the field!

Website: Rebecca Robinson

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