Inspired by the Alliance publication, Healthy and Active Lifestyles (and just in time for the New Year!) we've put together some of our top tips on how early years settings can encourage and promote healthy eating and active lifestyles for the children and families they work with.
Promoting healthy eating
After all the seasonal treats have been devoured, January is the perfect time to renew a focus on healthy eating. Research shows that almost a third of children in England are overweight or obese and one in five are already overweight or obese even before they start school. That’s why it is so timely and important for early years settings to continually refresh their plans in ensuring they promote healthy eating.
Get the parents involved
Gaining the support of your parents and carers from the outset is vital. This starts with initial conversations to understand their child’s eating habits, preferences, dislikes and any allergies or dietary needs. The key person can then share participation in healthy eating activities, new foods the child has tried and the setting’s menu with the parents. Also plan to get your parents involved in any planting or cooking sessions, picnics or food projects or activities your setting is planning.
Sharing the setting’s menu with your parents and carers can give them ideas and examples for their own menus at home. You can get their feedback helping make sure the children get a varied diet at home and in the setting too. A three week menu plan will give you a chance to introduce a sufficient variety of tastes and textures to mealtimes. You can also take advantage of seasonal fruit and vegetables and accommodate birthdays and festivals.
Boosting involvement and responsibility
A whole setting approach to valuing food and mealtimes can reap rewards in getting children motivated and interested in healthy eating. It can also introduce diverse learning opportunities and activities across the EYFS prime and specific areas of learning and development. Look at ways for children to be involved in the whole process from obtaining the ingredients to planning, preparation, setting out and clearing away. Giving children responsibility will help them gain self-esteem and confidence and interest in mealtimes and the food they are eating. Consider the following activities to get them involved:
- grow fruit, vegetables and herbs at the setting
- write a shopping list with the children for a healthy meal on your menu
- take an outing with the children to buy items from your list – make them responsible for finding the items. Look at and discuss the other food there.
- take advantage of your local area and environment – is there a local farmshop, allotment or orchard nearby? Can staff or parents with fruit trees or vegetable patches donate any seasonal glut to your setting?
- include cooking sessions with the children where they help prepare a meal and get them weighing, measuring and counting ingredients
- give children opportunities to serve themselves during mealtimes
- have the children lay the table and help wash and dry up after
Make it sociable
Mealtimes at the setting should be an enjoyable, sociable experience with practitioners joining in. This will support the children’s language and communication skills and increase their participation. You can try new foods yourself, encourage and extend conversations and be a good role model for polite manners and eating well. Here it is important to respect children’s preferences and talk about what you like and dislike too. When you praise and encourage children to try new foods be aware that likes and dislikes can change daily.
Gain further inspiration and ideas to encourage healthy eating from the many case studies contained in Alliance publication Healthy and Active Lifestyles for the Early Years. Written by early years practitioners for early years practitioners, this publication provides advice, guidance and examples of how you can actively support the children and families who attend your setting to live a healthier life.