Dear Parents and Carers

I have embarked upon a quality assurance module to promote healthy eating. I have attended a course led by Brighton and Hove City Council’s Healthy Choice Team, met a set of standards to attain the Healthy Choice Award and completed a City and Guilds accredited Level 2 in Food Safety and Hygiene. I am working through the set of standards required to attain the Healthy Early Years (HEY) certificate.

I was interested to learn about the latest guidance regarding healthy eating in our children at such an important developmental time. We hear in the news about children in primary schools underachieving as they sit at school slumped over their desks, tired from insufficient energy in their food. It may be tempting to provide lots of high energy food but this just creates dramatic highs which can dip energy levels even lower after a short time. Other parents, eager to feed their children healthily, feed their children the healthy diet that they eat themselves, high in low fat, low sugar and high fibre. Unfortunately, this can stop a growing child from obtaining the nutrients they need and too much fibre can be detrimental to a small child. I thought it may be useful to provide a little guidance of the sort of balance that is helpful to ensure that a young child is given the opportunity to maintain the energy levels to comfortably survive a day of work and play whilst providing the correct vitamins and minerals to develop a healthy body and mind. This is not a check list for you to see if you come up to scratch, merely some guidance notes for you to utilise as you see fit for your own children and circumstances.

Establishing a healthy diet
Toddlers and young children need plenty of energy and nutrients to grow and develop. Exposing them to a balanced diet will help establish healthy eating patterns.
Young children need: –
* more fat, particularly healthy fats, as low fat diets may not provide enough calories
* less fibre than other groups as fibre may cause indigestion and poor absorption of certain
* nutrient and energy dense foods as diets are often low in vitamins A, C and D, and iron and zinc
* smaller portions than adults due to smaller capacity
* regular pattern of meals and snacks, every 2-3 hours

* daily variations in appetites so toddlers should eat according to appetites rather than portion size

Menu planning tips
* Serve a variety of foods in a menu cycle of no less than 3 weeks
* Choose a ‘rainbow’ of colours to make food attractive and offer a range of nutrients
* Offer different textures – crisp, crunchy, chewy and soft to increase appeal
* Provide varied flavours but avoid meals combining too many different or new tastes
* Offer finger food as well as foods requiring cutlery to add variation at mealtimes
* Use seasonal fruit or vegetables; substitute tinned or frozen ones when choices are limited

Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy food
Offer starchy foods at every meal and as part of some snacks. Use a mixture of white and wholegrain pasta and rice (e.g. 50/50), and wholemeal and white breads as wholegrain can be too filling. Offer a range of grains such as couscous, rice, noodles and pasta – all of these combine well with vegetables. Offer low-sugar, low-salt breakfast cereals such as Weetabix, Rice Crispies and porridge. Avoid high-fat processed potato products such as waffles or Smiley Faces.

Fruit and vegetables
Offer 1-2 types of fruit and 2-3 vegetables each day (1 portion = size of child’s handful). Avoid cooking practices that reduce vitamin content, such as overcooking; cutting up and leaving in water a long time before cooking; or cooking early and reheating. Present as appealing and
easy to eat: raw, as finger foods; cut up into small portions; added to salads, soups or main meals. Offer dried fruit and fruit juice only at mealtimes, not as snacks. Use tinned vegetables
and pulses with low or no added salt and sugar.

Milk and dairy foods
Offer at 2-3 meals and snacks each day. Provide whole milk and full-fat dairy products for
children up to 2 years (for extra fat and vitamins). Introduce semi-skimmed milk gradually after the age of 2, provided the child is a good eater with a varied diet. Offer plain drinking milk
(without added sugar) as an accompaniment to meals not a replacement. Offer plain yoghurts,
Greek yoghurts and fromage frais (without added sugar or other additives)

Meat, fish, eggs, beans & non-dairy sources of protein
Include foods from this group in all main meals (excluding breakfast). Offer meals based on red meat (beef, lamb, pork) a minimum of twice a week. Offer fish twice a week, including at least 1 portion of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, etc.). Choose good quality versions (low fat, low salt) of processed meat products such as sausages and offer no more than once a week. Do not give any whole nuts (including peanuts) to children under 5 years due to risk of choking.

Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar
Serve small amounts no more than a few times a week – not instead of foods from other food
groups. Use some butter and polyunsaturated oils (sunflower, olive or rapeseed oil) in cooking. Provide desserts that are fruit and/or milk based. Give toddlers healthy choice home-baked products with fruit for some desserts. Serve dried fruit with meals and not as snacks to prevent tooth decay. Avoid adding sugar (or salt) to foods for young children.

More information can be obtained from the following websites.
Above all, try to ensure that as adults we are good role models demonstrating a positive attitude towards food and meal times as an enjoyable, social part of family life wherever possible.
Heather Johns BA (Hons) Early Years