Looking for a nursery can be a daunting process. It is important you feel comfortable leaving your child there and yet you can only go on other people’s recommendations. Not only should we check Ofsted reports and find out other parents opinions but we also need to ask the right questions when we go to visit. I would suggest you right them down too, if you are anything like me, you won’t remember all of them when you get there.
I have heard people say that they want to start weaning before they go back to work. My answer to this is that if you are not happy for your childcare provider to feed your child and teach them about food then you shouldn’t be using that provider.
Unlike schools nurseries and childminders are not required by law to keep to strict nutritional standards. There are voluntary guidelines developed by the Children’s Food Trust but they are not mandatory.
So here are 10 questions I think you should ask:
- Are they signed up to the voluntary guidelines?
- What is on the menu? – if your child is eating all their food at nursery, they need to have 5 portions of fruit and veg included each day, a portion of oily fish a week, some wholegrain foods, 2-3 portions of dairy and some red meat. There shouldn’t be too much processed food, high sugar foods or high salt foods.
- What do they give the children to drink? Children don’t need juice or squash. Ask the nursery whether they offer these or whether they stick to water – children will want what their peers are having. A portion of milk a day is a great way to get some calcium but toddlers don’t need milk all the time. (the age of the child will determine how much water and how much milk they should have)
- How much water to they encourage the children to drink? Did you know that a 1 year old needs about 1 litre of fluid a day? Good hydration is good for concentration and crucial for good dental health too.
- Do the staff eat with the children? Role model are SO important. Do the staff model eating fish and fruit and veg.
- Are children expected to finish what is on their plates? What happens if they don’t? The current recommendation is to let children say when they have had enough so they can learn to regulate appetite.
- What is offered if the child doesn’t like the food? Children should not be offered a high fat/high salt/high sugar alternative. They can be given choice but within the same food group. Otherwise children hear, you need to eat this nasty thing to have this yummy thing. Ideally you want a nursery which will reward children (with a sticker not a food reward) for trying the food.
- Is food given as a reward for good behaviour? This is not recommended and nurseries should try to use other things as rewards, otherwise food is used to treat – a cycle which can continue into adulthood.
- What are children allowed to take in on their birthday to share with their class? If there are 40 children in a nursery and every birthday comes with sweets and cake, that is a lot of additional sugar. Fruit or a special story to share with the group are a great alternative.
- How much physical activity is encouraged during the day? Children need to be active. They can be active in play as well as sport. Do they have plenty of space to run around, dance, kick a ball?
This is not an exhaustive list. I’d love to hear if you have any other suggested questions.