Tops Day Nurseries promote healthy living with no-added sugar menus

Sugar low menu

Tops Day Nurseries have launched their new no-added sugar menus across their nurseries in support of the current national campaign to promote healthy living amongst children.

Research confirms that healthy eating habits in the years before school are very important because they influence growth, development and academic achievement in later life. The current health status of children in England is:

• Over a fifth of children are either overweight or obese by the time they join reception class in primary school (their final year in the Early Years Foundation Stage).
• Type II diabetes, which usually appears in adulthood, is starting to be seen among some overweight children.
• Dental health is poor in many young children.
• Cases of rickets are appearing more frequently.
• More than one in four young children in the UK may be at risk of iron deficiency, which is linked to slower intellectual development and poor behaviour in the longer term.

Diet and good nutrition

In recent years, changes in children’s diets have affected their nutrient intake with some children eating foods that are low in energy, iron, zinc and vitamin A, and high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. In addition, many young children also eat fewer than the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. A recent review identifies that the early years are a crucial time to intervene to reduce health inequalities.

Good nutrition is important for children aged under 5 to ensure that they get the right amount of energy (calories) and nutrients needed while they are growing rapidly, but not too much energy which may lead to them becoming overweight or obese.

Encouraging children to eat a wide variety of foods and develop good dietary habits to take with them into later childhood and beyond is a core part of their understanding of healthy living. Planning meals and snacks each day to include a variety of food and drinks from the four food groups below will provide children with the good balance of nutrients they need to grow and develop:

• Starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta, cous cous, cereal.
• Fruit and vegetables
• Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein such as eggs, meat alternative, pulses, nuts
• Milk and dairy foods

Fat, sugar and salt

It’s a well-known fact that foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt are unlikely to provide the balance of energy and nutrients that young children need, therefore including them in the diets of very young children may contribute to them becoming overweight and having a poor nutrient intake.

There are good fats and bad fats and the type of fat that children eat is important. Bad fats include saturated fats, so the amount of saturated fat found in foods such as butter, cakes, biscuits and meat and meat products, including sausages, should be limited.

It is also important that children do not eat too much sugar and salt. Eating sugary food and drinks too often can lead to tooth decay and provide ‘empty calories’ which fill children up but do not provide other essential nutrients.

What are free sugars?

“Free” sugar is any sugar that is added to foods by the manufacturer, plus those that naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices. It does not include sugar naturally present in milk or whole fruit and vegetables. The recommended daily intake of ‘free’ sugar should be less than 5% of our total energy intake.

So what does that really mean?

• Children aged under 4 – no more than 12g or 4 teaspoons of free sugars per day.
• Children aged 4 to 6 – no more than 19g or 5 teaspoons of free sugars per day
• Children aged 7 to 10 – no more than 24g or 6 teaspoons of free sugars per day
• Children aged 11 years and upwards, as well as adults – no more than 30g or 7 teaspoons of free sugar per day

An example of this in a typical lunchbox items would be:

• A petit filous fromage fraise (80g) contains 2.5 teaspoons of free sugar,
• Barney bear cake bar (chocolate) contains 2 teaspoons of free sugar,
• No added sugar fruit shoot drink (apple and blackcurrant) contains 1 teaspoon of free sugar.

This calculated together is 5.5 teaspoons of sugar in a standard lunchbox, meaning children aged 4 to 6 will have exceeded their daily intake by half a teaspoon.

Physical activity

Regular physical activity during the early years provides immediate and long-term benefits for physical and psychological well-being.

All children aged under five years should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping), as childhood inactivity will lead to poor health in later life.

Physical activity includes all forms of activity, such as walking, active play and active games. Children are more likely to maintain a healthy weight if they are physically active for at least 180 minutes (three hours) each day, as recommended for children aged under five years in the UK.

How do we do this at Tops Day Nurseries?

The children have regular access to the outdoor environments at each nursery and are encouraged to be active throughout the day through different planned and spontaneous activities. We also run active sessions such as jump into life, boogie mites, tumble tots, music and movement. Football Fridays are run as a free session so children can be active and find a love for sports. Children learn about how activity affects their body and how it makes them healthy people.

The new menus have been designed to ensure the children have a fully balanced diet throughout the day, and importantly have reduced the sugar intake with the meals and desserts provided. The new menu will include a variety of original meals such as mixed bean and root vegetable stew served with apricot and herb couscous, or potato and lentil cakes served with vegetable sticks. There will also be one fully vegetarian day per week.

Award-winning Chef, Tony Beales, Managing Director of acclaimed Dorset-based event caterers, Beales Gourmet Ltd, spoke about the project: “It was my pleasure to review the menus created by Tops Day Nurseries, and it is especially wonderful to see that the health of young people is being taken so seriously by their team. What is apparent is the variety of fresh produce they have incorporated into the menu, clearly spending a great deal of time and energy researching for the perfect balanced children’s weekly menu. Given the scale of the issue nationally, it would be encouraging if other organisations and educational establishments were to follow the lead set by Tops. I certainly endorse any efforts made to help encourage healthy eating – our company use the very best local, fresh and seasonal produce, something I am hugely passionate about!” Mr Beales and his team cater for over 350 events across the South of England each year, including corporate events, weddings and high-end private dining.

Diane Wycherley, Senior Area Manager and creator of the Tops new menus, commented, “We understand a healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity are essential for children’s health and well-being. At Tops Day Nurseries we have designed a balanced menu to support growth and development using the Children’s Food Trust recommendations. The key thing to remember is that overall, eating healthily is all about balance. Indulgent foods, such as those high in fat and/or sugar, can be enjoyed and savoured, but only occasionally, not every day. The majority of our diet should be made up of balanced, nutritious everyday foods and this is the foundation of our new menus.”

Tops Day Nurseries also received a visit from Multi-Michelin starred chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, after Tops Day Nurseries was bought to his attention following a segment on the news.

Jean-Christophe commented “It is wonderful to see that Tops Day Nurseries are as keen as I am to help our children and their parents understand nutrition from this important age of their development, I only wished more schools were this conscientious”

To watch a video of Jean-Christophe’s visit to Tops Day Nurseries, please click here.

The more children are introduced to new foods, the more willing they are to try new things, a particular favourite dish within Tops Day Nurseries is chicken and pea risotto. Open 52 weeks a year, the chain realise the importance of implementing healthy eating within early years and have a vision to support parents with low sugar meal suggestions at home.

To discuss the menus in more detail please contact your nursery manager, which you can find here.

Posted in: News from our Nurseries, Recipes & Nursery menus