So pleased to be collaborating with the London Early Years Foundation. A few weeks ago I was travelling back from London and met June O’Sullivan MBE on the train and we got chatting about healthcare, nutrition and children. Below’s blog shows the passion the staff at the London Early Years Foundation have for looking after our children – Gareth Presch, Founder, World Health Innovation Summit
Safe, Fit and Healthy
The complexities of working with young children is often mis-understood. However, nurseries are places where the consequences of wider socio-economic issues are first felt for example the implications of poor nutrition on the long-term health and welfare of our children. If you don’t believe me look back at history and consider the work of Margaret McMillan.
It’s therefore not surprising that we are seeing the child obesity issue at first hand. The statistics are scary with almost a quarter of British children overweight by the time they start Primary School and while obesity is highest among older children about 11.2% of 4 -5 years olds are obese with a 40 to 70% chance they will become obese adults. Diet related ill health costs the NHS £5.8billion every year with childhood obesity related illnesses such as asthma in England costing £51m per year.
Given the size of the problem and the potential for it to get worse, we decided at LEYF that we needed to create our own response to child obesity. However, as we started to investigate we were rather overwhelmed by the amount of small projects and initiatives and disconnected snippets of information about nutrition, food portions, salt and sugar and five a day. We were not surprised by the confusion many parents expressed when we talked to them about food and healthy living. Having given it some deep thought and in conjunction with staff we realised what we needed was a model for excellence in childcare nutrition, exercise and active lifestyle because addressing one issue without the others would be insufficient. We also decided that it would be better all if we developed a strategy that could be replicated in other nursery settings and lead to behavioural change in chefs, staff and parents.
So What Did We Do?
One way to embed a culture of healthy food is to train those who cook. When we started our journey a few years ago I was surprised to find there was no specific occupational standards for chefs working with children under eight years. We addressed this by writing the National Occupational Standards with the help and advice of local authority dieticians, nutritionists and food experts and a strong backing from across the sector.
The result is the “Food Procurement and Cooking for Early Years Level 2 accredited by Cache. The qualification designed to help chefs cook from a child’s point of view including procuring the right foods, serving the right portions and presenting in the right way. The Standards are also designed to strengthen the important roles chefs play in educating staff and parents and influencing children to become the next generation of healthy and informed foodies. Early Years chefs are not just someone in a kitchen but increasingly a crucial member of a team working to ensure children are safe, fit and healthy.
While this is a more long term action, we also looked at improving our immediate service. We engaged the LEYF chefs and designed our approach based on the good sense teaching of Benjamin Franklin
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.
With the chefs help we have standardised our menus so the food in all nurseries is balanced and we have a shared ‘LEYF cookbook with tips for parents. We wanted to do this to ensure consistency when chefs were absent and we had to rely on agency cover. While doing this we reviewed our suppliers to make sure we could get the freshest and best quality food while limited our carbon footprint.
LEYF has developed a research based pedagogy taking the best elements of local and international research. The area most relevant to this approach is what we label ‘safe, fit and healthy’. We thought about how we engage the children in keeping themselves healthy and fit and influence their parents. Research used by OMEP to encourage handwashing found that getting the children to champion the new behaviour was very effective. We wanted to work in a way that our children would champion healthy lifestyles at home.
One of the LEYF ways of engaging parents is through our pedagogical conversations where we use conversation to extend parents knowledge about their children’s learning and development needs. We reinforce this with parent’s information, workshops, open days and home learning bags but with over 3000 families attending LEYF nurseries we have long learned that we need a range of approaches if we are to fully engage parents.
Like all nurseries we organise regular activities for the children on the food cycle from seed to a meal. We have an Urban Outdoors approach which is focusing on how we use the outdoors as a major stimulus of learning at LEYF.
We have long placed a big emphasis on mealtimes, ensuring that it’s a very calm and social experience. Staff eat with the children, talk to the children about the food and help them to understand more about it as they are encouraged to serve themselves, try different tastes and learn the basis of good table manners. Chefs also lead a learning activity at least once a month which the children take very seriously as they see the chef as the food expert. The chef also does a monthly planning meeting with the children to ascertain what food they are enjoying and what they would like to see on the menu. Contrary to popular restaurant practice it’s rare that they ask for chicken nuggets and chips! Generally, when children are expose to proper food they are braver and broader and favourites include tarragon chicken, stuffed baked potatoes and mackerel pate on toast as well as the perennial favourite garlic bread!
All nurseries have fresh vegetables in the role play area so children can familiarise themselves with interesting vegetables like sweet potato, parsnips and celeriac. Not all LEYF nurseries have well-appointed gardens where we can grow an abundance of fruit and vegetables but we can all grow herbs and visit the local London greengrocers and markets. It has many benefits including walking around the local neighbourhood.
Helping children to be fit is more than food and what they eat. Children’s susceptibility to obesity is aggravated by their more sedentary lifestyles and parent’s fear of letting them play outdoors. 90 % 2 to 4 year olds don’t experience enough Physical Development even though it’s a prime area of development in the EYFS. For babies movement and physical activity is crucial to their long term learning and development. We therefore wanted to examine ways of ensuring that we got staff to understand their role in extending the children’s physical development.
Of course, we also need to consider the health and fitness of Early Years staff too. It’s a mixed picture and so part of our strategy was to raise staff awareness of their own fitness, health and personal attitudes to food. We decided to take two approaches. Firstly, we linked with Lala Matters from Active Matters and many of our staff attend her Cache Level 3 Physical Development course. In addition, we continue to liaise with Linda Baston Pitt from the Old School House Nursery in Cambridge who has developed the Physical and Nutrition Co-ordinator (PANCO) programme with a view to replicating this across LEYF. We are also in early discussions with Dr Mike Loosemore from Active Movement who has developed a means of helping adults make minor adjustments to their daily lives which increases their fitness.
We intend to continue to research and learn more ways to improve the health of LEYF children in partnership with staff, parents and professionals. Our aim is to mitigate the risk of obesity in small children, because their parents and carers (staff) are better informed. As a growing organisation this will remains a key part of our strategy as we take on new nurseries and staff.
I have long believed that nurseries are much more important to the fabric of society than we are given credit. How we help raise the issue of obesity and find ways to mitigate it right at the beginning is crucial. As ever, when the sector joins together with one voice we have core influence and we urge that we all consider the powerful trio, safe, fit and healthy.
*The opinions expressed are the bloggers own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Health Innovation Summit.
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