Food is very much at the heart of what we do across our family of nurseries. Our role in caring for and nurturing young children is the most important aspect of nursery life and from the very beginning of a child’s experience in our nursery, they will know mealtimes as a time to come together with friends and enjoy a happy and sociable experience.
So recently winning the Nursery World national food award at Townhouse meant a huge amount to all of us and it was lovely to receive recognition for something so central to our whole ethos.
All of the meals are freshly prepared at nursery. Wendy our Meals and Nutrition Co-ordinator implements the voluntary guidelines of the ‘Eat Better Start Better’ when planning our four-week seasonal menus. Meals are freshly prepared meeting the culture, allergy and dietary needs of all our children whilst reflecting a diversity of cultures and tastes. Our families are involved in menu planning as we ask them to share family favourites and taste new meal ideas before new menus are introduced.
Our meals are hugely popular with the children and families and we have had numerous requests for recipes cards to be given as the children will only eat these meals at home! The nursery uses seasonal fruit and vegetables and meat sourced from the local farm shop and our allotment.
Dietary needs of all the children are met through robust procedures with visual charts displayed in all rooms and the kitchen area. When a family starts at nursery, Wendy or the nursery cook will meet with the parents to talk through the menu, finding out the child’s dietary or medical needs and any food preferences.
It is important to distinguish meal times as recognisable and enjoyable for the children. Tablecloths are put out with conversational prompts on each table to encourage language and imagination. In pre-school at Townhouse, the children help to setup and once a month we host our ‘Townhouse Restaurant’, where two children take on the role of waiters/waitresses serving drinks and food to their friends. At snack time, children are encouraged to prepare the food, providing opportunities to engage in conversation about where food comes from, how is grows and to explore textures.
At lunch and tea time, children are encouraged to be independent. We support them to wash their hands, talking about good hygiene and why it is important. In Pre-school children are supported to choose their own plate and cup before sitting down with their friends. The children in Toddlers and Pre-school are encouraged to serve themselves from serving dishes on the table onto their plate. As the children tuck into their lunch, staff engage in conversation, reflecting on the mornings activities and talking about the food they are eating.
Wendy sits and chats with the children during mealtimes, supporting anyone who need encouragement to try new food. She does this naturally and with ease, for example one little boy was not keen to eat or try new foods, but Wendy, tapping into his interest in trains, said the train from Crewe brought in the potatoes and vegetables. His plate was soon empty and we had one very happy little boy!
Mealtimes in the baby room support lots of opportunity for independence as children grasp the spoon and with increasing skill, manage to get this mostly to their mouths! Babies love to try new tastes and textures when they are weaning or trying finger foods and we always encourage this. Our babies sit in small groups with an adult always close by, who offers reassurance, support and conversation.
Food is seen as a huge learning experience at nursery, providing endless opportunities for children to engage in the breadth of the curriculum.
We have seen an interest recently throughout the nursery in growing fruit and vegetables at home, so we now have our own allotment patch in the community that children visit weekly. They choose the crops they would like to grow and nurture them ready to be harvested and used in our nursery kitchen. We have our own growing area at nursery so everyone has the opportunity to plant and grow a variety of vegetables and herbs that can be used in play and in the kitchen.
We provide children with opportunity to see food in the great outdoors too, visiting our local farm shop that deliver to nursery, helping children further understand where food comes from. The children make shopping lists of what they can find in the farm shop and help to pack the food and pay the farmer. We enjoyed a recent trip to a local fruit farm where the children went pumpkin picking. Whilst there we shared our own interpretation of the ‘Enormous Pumpkin’ story with the children and staff working together to pull the pumpkin out of the ground.
Wendy gives the children opportunity to be part of her kitchen, where they can see her prepare food and then become involved. One child was fascinated about fish so he helped to prepare the mackerel for tea. Afterwards he went into Pre-school, sharing his experience with his friends “It was my pleasure helping you, I had to cut the skin and pull the bone out so all my friends could eat the fish.” Children often visit Wendy’s kitchen where they can put on their chef hat and help her.
We support our younger children too to enjoy exploring and learning through food. The babies enjoy exploring tastes and textures with a lemon and orange water play activity and toddlers have explored herbs through a dinosaur world tray activity. Pre-school have loved learning how to make cheese after a conversation over breakfast.
As you can see, the culture and ethos at Townhouse and the inspirational work Wendy and the team have carried out, have impacted on all seven of our nurseries and so we were very proud to have received this award on behalf of all our fabulous nursery cooks.