Encourage early years healthy eating with parents
Helping children and families to adopt healthy lifestyles is a part of good early years practice. It is likely to become increasingly important as early years services focus more on improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children. Healthy eating makes a very important contribution to overall health and wellbeing and is important for all of us, whatever age we are. However, it is in the very early years that eating habits and attitudes to food are formed. The information and advice which practitioners can provide for parents can make a significant contribution to supporting good lifestyle choices.
The most obvious thing any early years setting can do is to lead by example by making sure that the food choices offered to children in the setting - for meals and for snack time - meet the required nutritional standards. Guidelines on preparing healthy meals for children under five, Eating Well for Under Fives in Childcare, are available from the Caroline Walker Trust. However, to be really effective it is important that the setting develops its own healthy eating policy. This will help to create a unified approach to promoting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy eating policy
A good healthy eating policy will include:
- the reasons why healthy eating is important
- key aims focusing on health and wellbeing
- how the key messages about food and nutrition will be conveyed
- how everyone, including parents and carers, will
- know how to contribute to the promotion of healthy eating
- the training opportunities available to develop staff
- understanding of healthy eating
- how the setting's practice will be monitored and reviewed.
Practical ideas for involving parents
It is important that parents are not made to feel that they are giving their children ‘wrong' or ‘bad' food habits at home. Use your healthy eating policy as a way of sharing with parents the importance of healthy eating and back this up with some practical ways of sharing information:
- Use a noticeboard to display the weekly menus and types of food on offer for snack time. Add photos of the children enjoying different foods so parents can to talk about these foods with their children.
- A letter or email sent home at the beginning of the week talking about the food that will be provided at snack time, and how it will be presented to the children, will give parents new ideas and also provides the opportunity for them to talk with their child about food.
- Offer recipes for the favourite foods prepared in the setting and encourage parents to try some of these out at home - for all the family.
- Remind parents of the importance of mealtimes as enjoyable social occasions and remind them not to use food as a source of reward or punishment.
- Organise an event to celebrate food and lifestyles from different countries and use this to involve children and parents in extending the range of foods and cooking styles they enjoy.
- Provide leaflets and information for parents on healthy eating and direct them to organisations and websites that can provide advice. These could include Change 4 Life, NHS Choices and the BBC's web pages on healthy living.
A website set up by the Infant and Toddler Forum provides a range of very useful resources for both practitioners and parents. The Forum is a multidisciplinary team of experts and practitioners from paediatrics, neonatology, health visiting, dietetics and child psychology. Its aim is to share new ideas and to debate the latest thinking in infant and toddler nutrition and as part of this process it provides some very useful guides, factsheets and resources. These can be downloaded from the website for distribution to parents and fellow practitioners. Particularly useful is the leaflet Toddler Meals: How Much Do They Need?, which deals with the tricky issues around establishing regular eating routines and managing ‘fussy eaters'.
The Toddler Forum have also produced a website for parents entitled Little People's Plates. This includes a wide range of information, leaflets and advice as well as an interactive tool, the ‘Tot It Up Food Calculator', which can be used to give a personalised analysis of a toddler's diet over the course of a day or a week. This could be a very helpful tool for parents who express concerns about whether or not their toddler is eating adequately, as the analysis comes with advice and simple suggestions about how the diet could be improved.
- Links with the EYPS Standards: S5, S31
- Links with Ofsted SEF: Sections 4c, 5i, 5j,6n