Don’t force nurseries to allow unhealthy packed lunches

Nursery schools should not be forced to allow children to bring packed lunches when extended hours are introduced next month.

From September, the government’s ‘free’ childcare policy will be extended from 15 to 30 hours per week but the Department for Education has stipulated that the funding does not cover food. This means that nurseries can charge for meals and snacks – but they can’t charge parents for meals as a condition of place, which means that parents have the choice of providing their own packed lunch.

The ‘Early Years Entitlements: operational guidance for local authorities and providers’ booklet states: “Providers can charge for meals and snacks as part of their delivery of the free entitlement as long as parents are not required to pay as a condition of taking up their child’s free entitlement place. Providers may give parents other options including waiving or reducing the cost of meals and snacks, or allowing parents to bring in a packed lunch.” But the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) says nurseries are being put in an “awkward position” of having to ask parents for money for meals and also the “policing” of packed lunches.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief executive of the NDNA, said: “NDNA wholeheartedly supports the many benefits of children eating freshlycooked meals in nurseries. The nutritional and social benefits of sitting down to eat meals together are well documented. “Nurseries should not be forced to allow children to bring in packed lunches. Firstly, studies have shown that the majority of packed lunches do not meet national guidelines on nutrition. If children are in nursery all day, they need to have a good, nutritional meal. For parents, the knowledge that their child is having a healthy, cooked meal and snacks every day is a huge benefit of nursery.

“The UK is globally ahead on healthy eating, with 59% of UK students eating what they consider to be a healthy diet” Some nurseries grow t heir own f o od and children t ake part in it s preparation Some nurseries grow their own food and children take part in its preparation, which is a rich learning experience for them. Nurseries also struggle to store lunches safely due to space in fridges. There is a real risk of cross contamination for children with severe allergies. If children bring their own food into the premises, keeping these children safe is much more difficult.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “We are clear that parents can be charged for discretionary items, such as food, or for trips – but this cannot be a condition of taking up a free place.” For more information visit years-provider-guide.