Why Does My Child’s Nursery Offer Puddings?

This is following on from my blog earlier in the week on What does good nursery food look like. We thought we’d follow up with a post on the puddings on offer at nursery and why does my child’s nursery offer puddings?. Mainly because this is often where people struggle the most when it comes to what’s on offer for children at nursery.

This blog is written by Laura Matthews, with support from SR Nutrition. Laura has worked across London boroughs reviewing nursery & school food against the food standards.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are no mandatory food or nutrient standards for pre-schools & nurseries in England. However there are best practice voluntary food & drink guidelines for early year settings in England. These have been produced in the form of the “Eat Better Start Better” guide. The guidelines have been developed to help early year providers meet the nutritional requirements of children aged 1 to 4 years (& up to their 5th birthday).

What do food & drink guidelines say about puddings?

Below are some of the quotes taken from the guidelines. They specifically refer to desserts and puddings on offer at nursery settings.

  • “A dessert should be provided as part of lunch & tea each day”.
  • “Vary the desserts offered with lunch & tea each week:
  • For main meals, provide a variety of different desserts each week (e.g. fruit based such as apple crumble, dairy-based desserts such as rice pudding) and limit provision of cakes & biscuits.
  • For light meals (e.g. tea) provide fruit (such as seasonal fruit salad) &/or dairy-based desserts such as yoghurt & avoid cakes and biscuits”.
  • “Ice cream can be served once a week with a fruit-based dessert as part of a meal”.
  • “Limit confectionery such as chocolate chips and hundreds & thousands & use only as part of cakes or desserts”.
  • “Avoid all sweet foods (including cakes, biscuits, sweet muffins, cookies, flapjacks, pastries, chocolate & sweets) between meals & at teatime & , as these can damage children’s teeth”.

So why do the guidelines include pudding?

Desserts & puddings made with cereals (such as rice or oats), milk & fruit can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet for young children. They can provide energy & essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamins & minerals.

Puddings are included in the menus to ensure that children are getting enough energy and nutrients during the day. Ideally the majority of the puddings on offer should be nutrient rich, including fruits or dairy.

Some children may not need the extra nutrients and calories from puddings in this way. However others may as they might not always get enough energy from meals offered at home. The guidelines have to standardise advice for everyone. Which is why puddings are included as standard for all.

What puddings are suitable?

  • Fruit in any format; tinned (in juice, not syrup), frozen or fresh, whatever is available!
  • Plain or frozen yoghurt.
  • Dairy based desserts, e.g. rice pudding, plain custard (no added sugar).
  • Fruit based desserts, e.g. fruit crumble, baked apple, cinnamon poached pears. Ideally use fruit, rather than sugar as a sweetener. Find my no added sugar apple crumble recipe here to try at home or share with your nursery!

How do pudding requirements change with the age of infants?

At 10-12 months of age lunch & tea at nursery can include a main course & , this is to help move eating patterns closer to those of children over one year, & to ensure meals are sufficiently varied & nutrient dense. However at age 7-9 months this isn’t necessary, as their milk intake is likely to still be quite high and they should get enough nutrients and energy from meals and milk alone.

When Raffy was 10 months old I had to raise my concern with his nursery & intervene. They began to provide him with ice cream which I wasn’t happy with whilst he was still on his weaning journey. It’s a tough one to address, but at this young age I personally don’t think offering a 10 month old ice cream is necessary. When they are just learning to experience a variety of foods and be exposed to new and varied flavours in their diet.

Raffy’s nursery were happy to provide fruit for him and this worked well. At such a young age he really wasn’t aware that he was having anything different to others.

What are the recommendations for sugar intake for children aged 1-4?

  • The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in the UK recommend that intake of free (or added) sugars should not exceed 5% of total energy intakes for children aged 2 & upwards.
  • Public Health England (PHE) encourages reducing or removing the amount of free or added sugar in the diet.[1]
  • The NHS make a separate recommendation that children under the age of 4 avoid sugar sweetened drinks & foods with sugar added to it.
  • During weaning the NHS also recommend sugar and sugary foods as foods to AVOID as babies don’t need it.

We are aware that these guidelines mentioned above somewhat contradict the nursery menu guidelines. Which allow ice cream from 1 year of age. It also includes “limited” amounts of cakes, biscuits, pastries, chocolate and sweets and it’s a really tricky line to tread.

What can nursery AND parents do about puddings on the menu?

  • Communication with the nursery is always key!
  • First off understand who is preparing the food at nursery. Is it made in house or made by an external catering company offsite? It’s good to determine who is designing the nursery menu, so you know who to go to, to flag concerns.
  • Do you have a copy of your nursery food menu? Do you know what they serve your child for pudding & snack time each day? If not, check in with the Nursery Manager to find out.
  • Find out if your child’s nursery is aware of the guidelines.
  • If you have a child under 12 months & your nursery is providing food for them, ensure they aren’t being given ice cream, cakes or biscuits during the day.
  • For children aged between 1 & 4 check to see what morning & afternoon snacks are offered. They should avoid sweet foods such as cakes, biscuits & confectionery. Both between meals & at teatime, & limit them at lunchtime. This is to minimise the risk of tooth decay.
  • Check how often those kind of options are available and perhaps raise it with the nursery if they are on offer every day.
  • Ask if there are any alternative options for children on the days when there are high sugar pudding options available.

What can nurseries do to help improve puddings on offer?

  • Stick to guidelines and LIMIT the amount of sugary foods on offer.
  • Try to focus on fruit and milk-based desserts to ensure plenty of energy and nutrients for children.
  • Try offering a starter alongside a main course instead. In 2019, a south London borough successfully introduced a lunchtime policy across its maintained nurseries. Whereby one day a week they provide a starter (restaurant style!) & a main rather than a dessert. A starter may consist of e.g. low salt savoury crackers or breadsticks served with fruit &/or vegetables & a dairy item e.g. cheese.
  • Where facilities allow at nursery, let children be given their main meal & pudding or starter at the same time. Sso they can choose what they eat first. This is so as to create a level playing field for all food (i.e. food neutrality). This also prevents this outdated idea of children not being allowed pudding if they don’t eat their main course. See Charlotte’s blog on this here.
  • Again where possible can nursery staff sit & eat with children so as to demonstrate good food modelling?
  • Check that the pudding & starter portion sizes are age appropriate. Guidance from ‘Eat Better, Start Better’ or ‘First Steps Nutrition’ should be utilised to support this.

What are your thoughts on the subject of why does my child’s nursery offer puddings?? Are you surprised by any of the information above?! I’d love to know!

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-carbohydrates-and-health-report

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