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To explore nutrition and food provision in pre-school nurseries in order to develop interventions to promote healthy eating in early years settings, especially across deprived communities.
An ethnographic approach was used combining participant observation with semi-structured interviews. Research participants were selected purposively using convenience sampling.
Community pre-school nurseries.
Nursery managers (n 9), cooks (n 6), staff (n 12), parents (n 12) and children at six nurseries (four private and two attached to children's centres) in Liverpool, UK.
Private nurseries had minimal access to information and guidelines. Most nurseries did not have a specific healthy eating policy but used menu planning to maintain a focus on healthy eating. No staff had training in healthy eating for children under the age of 5 years. However, enthusiasm and interest were widespread. The level and depth of communication between the nursery and parents was important. Meal times can be an important means of developing social skills and achieving Early Years Foundation Stage competencies.
Nurseries are genuinely interested in providing appropriate healthy food for under-5s but require support. This includes: improved mechanisms for effective communication between all government levels as well as with nurseries; and funded training for cooks and managers in menu planning, cost-effective food sourcing and food preparation. Interventions to support healthy eating habits in young children developed at the area level need to be counterbalanced by continued appropriate national-level public health initiatives to address socio-economic differences.
To determine the extent to which national and local UK guidelines for the early years sector address key recommendations for encouraging healthy eating based on best available evidence.
Phase 1 comprised a literature review to identify new evidence to assess current relevance of the Caroline Walker Trust (CWT) ‘Eating well for under-5 s in child care’ guidelines. Phase 2 assessed the completeness of seven local to national-level government guidelines by comparison with the ‘gold standard’ CWT guidelines.
Desk-based review using secondary data.
Research literature and statutory guidelines on healthy eating in early years settings.
Phase 1 retrieved seventy-five papers, of which sixty were excluded as they addressed compliance with nutritional and food-based standards only. One report examined a social marketing tool and was deemed too narrow. The remaining fourteen documents assessed interventions to encourage healthy eating in early years settings. Following quality assessment, seven documents were included. Nine key recommendations were identified: (i) role of government; (ii) early years setting policy/guidelines; (iii) training; (iv) menu planning; (v) parents; (vi) atmosphere and encouragement; (vii) learning through food; (viii) sustainability; and (ix) equal opportunities. Phase 2 identified that all seven guidelines included the nine key recommendations but sporadic cover of sub-key recommendations.
More detail is needed on how early years settings can encourage children to eat healthily. Research is required to develop second-layer guidance for interactive materials. Clear processes of communication and support for parents are required. Ways food relates to children's wider learning and social development need further thought, requiring collaboration between the Department of Health and the Department for Education.
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