Why nursery food matters
The food children eat at nursery plays a huge role in what food they eat later in life. Children’s eating habits are formed at a very young age, and the choices, tastes and nutritional quality of the food they eat have a far reaching effect on their food preferences and health later in life. With around 600,000 children attending pre-school daycare each year, our nurseries should be playing their part in encouraging healthy eating for life.
However, our research has found substantial evidence for poor quality nursery food, particularly in children’s centres. Despite parents paying on average £35 a day for day care, the amount of money spent on ingredients in nurseries is sometimes pitifully low, with some nurseries spending as little as 25p on ingredients for a child’s food. Many nurseries are serving children processed food such as chips and economy burgers that would not be allowed in schools. Colourings and additives banned in manufactured foods for young children were regularly served in nurseries.
These eating habits have a massive impact. Almost one in four children (22.8%) are overweight or obese by the time they start reception year in primary school, according to National Child Measurement Programme figures from December 2009. Paradoxically, while many young children are becoming overweight or obese, many children, regardless of their energy intake, are also malnourished – early results from the Department of Health's National Diet and Nutrition Survey of children aged between 1½ and 3 years, published in 2010, found that children’s eating habits had improved little since 1995, when on average children ate too much added sugar, too much salt, and not enough iron, zinc, oily fish, vitamin C or vitamin A.
Obesity and diet related ill health is already costing the NHS £10 billion a year, and this has been estimated to rise to £50 billion by 2050. And children's chances of developing diet-related disease in later life are greater if they come from a low-income background.
The Department of Education has done commendable work over the last five years in implementing the nutritional standards in primary and secondary schools, which has seen great improvement in the quality of food served. But while regulation has made positive changes to food and the dining experience in schools, nursery food has been left behind, which is why we need change now.
Help us enable this change and support our campaign by signing our petition, and contacting your new MP today.