A recent report from the Early Years Alliance (EYA), has found many nurseries in some of the country’s poorest areas are closing due to shortfall in government funding. The industry report found 17 per cent of childcare providers in the most deprived areas of England ‘anticipate closure in the next 12 months’, an incredibly worrying statistic.
As a result of this reported lack of funding, other functions of the nursery set up have taken a substantial hit. 43 per cent of the more than 350 nurseries and childminders surveyed, stated they have had to cut back on vital learning resources, needing to save precious funds wherever possible.
Another part of the nursery offering which has seen a reduction in quality as a result of these budget cuts, is food. Of those surveyed, 19 per cent have reduced the quality of the food served to the children in their care, an alarming statistic for such an integral part of early years development.
The role of food in child growth, both physically and mentally, can never be underestimated. It is widely understood that good early years nutrition can play a critical role in the development of a child; aiding cognitive growth, as well as emotional and social advances. With increasing awareness around the importance of nutrition, not just in child development but throughout our lives, we need to ensure nutritious food is always making its way on to our children’s plates.
Of course, in an ideal world every meal we serve our children would be healthy, tasty and nutritious, but time and often money don’t always allow for this. Food is a very emotive subject; and is incredibly important to a lot of people, especially parents. The ‘fresh vs. frozen’ debate is a well-worn one, but this is ultimately the choice a nursery owner will have to make when looking at catering options. A common misconception of frozen food is that is it of lower quality, or less nutritious, in comparison to fresh. This view however is changing, as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of frozen meals.
In a nursery setting, the move to a frozen meals option offers many benefits, many of which are cost saving. By offering frozen meals, a nursery can control stock levels, and more importantly wastage levels a lot more easily. By being able to cater for the exact number of children in the nursery on any given day, considering absence, sickness, dietary requirements or general lack of appetite, means much less food is going to waste, as staff can cook exactly what’s needed.
Another factor which may contribute to the consideration of frozen meals, is the complexity which can come with an in-house chef. With many children all with different tastes, dietary requirements and appetites, this can become an added challenge if a chef is off sick, on holiday or leaves unexpectedly. This may on occasion leave a nursery manager or another member of staff in charge of lunch service, often leading to a trip to one of the big supermarkets and pose a real issue when managing ratios. This can become very expensive, as well as opening more complexity around the challenge of allergies and nutritional value.
In a time when every pound counts, streamlining and simplifying your food offering is paramount. Financial challenges are of course a vital consideration and nurseries need to know what they can and cannot afford. But when nutrition plays such a vital role in both child development and happiness, it would be a shame for food quality to suffer.