1 Introduction and background
1.1 Why is this guidance needed?
Good nutrition in the early years is vital. Children's early experiences of food play an important part in shaping later eating habits, and good eating habits support healthy growth and development. Giving positive messages about food in the early years setting will also help to stress the importance of a good diet to children's families.
As someone working in early education, you will recognise the importance of giving children a nutritionally balanced diet - and that you are in a position to make a difference. This guidance has been produced to support you in meeting children's nutritional needs in the early years. It is evidence based (meaning that it is practical advice based on nutritional research) and sets out the nutritional requirements for children aged 1 to 5, providing practical advice on how to ensure that these requirements are met.
1.2 What is this guidance for?
It will help you to work towards the quality of service described in the National Care Standards - Early Education and Childcare up to the Age of 16; Standard 3 Health and Wellbeing:1
National Care Standard 3 - Each child or young person will be nurtured by staff who will promote his or her general wellbeing, health, nutrition and safety.
It is especially relevant to National Care Standards 3.3 and 3.4:
National Care Standard 3.3 - Children and young people have opportunities to learn about healthy lifestyles and relationships, hygiene, diet and personal safety.
National Care Standard 3.4 - Children and young people have access to a well-balanced and healthy diet (where food is provided) - which takes account of ethnic, cultural and dietary requirements, including food allergies.
1.3 Who is this guidance for?
The guidance is for providers of childcare for children aged 1 to 5 years who provide food (including snacks) and/or drinks. It will apply to a wide range of providers, including local authority nurseries, private nurseries, playgroups, childminders, toddler groups, crèches, school meal services and family centres, regardless of the length of time that children are being cared for.
We do not address the needs of children from birth to 1 year here. Nutrition in the first 12 months of a child's life is crucially important and is covered in detail in Off to a Good Start,2Fun First Foods3 and Adventures in Foodland,4 all available from NHS Health Scotland.
Parents and other carers need to know about this guidance and what they can expect their child to receive in terms of food and drink.
1.4 Links with other resources
The information in this guidance reflects that in Adventures in Foodland,4 which is very comprehensive and provides background information on nutrition, dental health and physical activity for carers of children under 5, as well as a series of ideas for practical activities with food. This guidance complements Adventures in Foodland4 by making the links between practical food choices and achieving the specific nutrition guidance for children.
At a local level, there are many resources designed to improve nutrition in the early years, some of which will be useful in helping to put the guidelines into practice. To find out about these, contact your local authority's early years department.
1.5 Putting policy into context
Improving children's health is the collective responsibility of parents, guardians, early years staff and carers, and health professionals. 5
It is also an important priority for the Scottish Executive and this is where you can help. The strategy Improving Health in Scotland - the Challenge6 identifies the early years as one of the four key areas for health improvement, as well as putting special focus on diet and physical activity as a way of achieving this. Eating for Health: Meeting the Challenge,7 another strategy paper, recommends that we need nutritional guidance for the pre-school sector if we are to improve children's health.
Other important documents in this area are the Curriculum Framework for Children 3 to 58 and National Care Standards - Early Education and Childcare up to the Age of 16.1 This guidance aims to help you work towards these standards. Increasing the rate of improvement in the health of people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland is a key objective of the Scottish Executive's approach to tackling poverty and disadvantage (see Closing the Opportunity Gap9). Improving diet and nutrition will benefit everyone in Scotland but the most disadvantaged groups, including children living in poor families, will benefit the most.