May 25, 2018 11:01 am
At the Mulberry Bush it is our privilege to be able to help and support all of the children in our care to achieve their full potential. We believe, passionately, that in order to achieve this, children must be well nourished both physically and emotionally. We believe that a well-balanced diet of top quality food is an essential bedrock of child development. We also believe that food and meal times give us an amazing opportunity to expose children to the rich world beyond our nursery. We present dishes from around the world with a myriad of different flavours and ingredients, we include dishes from China, Morocco, India, Italy, France, South America, the Caribbean, Ireland, America, Spain and of course from the United Kingdom. We use this opportunity to talk to the children about where the dishes originate from and the different spices and flavours that they taste within them.
It is also an excellent opportunity to talk about how our food is grown and brought to our table. We use our discussions about food to address healthy life style choices. We talk to the children about the importance of eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables but also about need to balance our diets with proteins and other sources of nutrition. We relate this to physical fitness and health and also dental health and have visits from our local dentists to discuss the effects of unhealthy foods on teeth. We also use this as a way of accessing parents and often put up displays with information about dental health particularly focusing on the sugar content of certain foods and drinks.
We source all of our meat from a local butcher and all fruit and vegetables from a local green grocer. We are in the process of looking into sourcing our fish from our local fishmonger too. The vast majority of our food is prepared freshly, each day, in our kitchens. We have recently invested in an ice cream machine so this now includes ice creams, sorbets and frozen yoghurts as well as all cakes and biscuits. This means that we can minimise the added sugar, salt and preservatives in our food. We have also recently started to vary our menus with a starter instead of a pudding for one day each week. This has proved very popular and has helped us to further reduce the amount of sugar in the children's diets.
We have 4 rotating 3 week menus, one for each season. We reassess and adapt the menus regularly. When assessing our menu’s we work alongside state registered paediatric dietitian & public health nutritionist Rebecca Weeks (BSc Hons RD, Msc PHN). Rebecca helps us to structure nutritionally balanced and appealing menus for the children. Under Rebecca’s guidance we work with the measures set out by the Children’s Food Trust and the Caroline Walker Trust (CWT).
Each year the children plant seeds and chit potatoes ready to be planted in our growing area. When the seedlings are ready the children help to plant them out and care for them while they grow. Watering is a particularly popular activity! We have grown many different fruits and vegetables over the years but this year we have planted courgettes, peas, potatoes, runner beans and strawberries. We have herbs growing in the garden and often plant edible flowers such as nasturtiums as well. Once the crop is ready for harvesting we make sure that as many children as possible have the chance to taste them. When it comes to peas, tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries they tend not to get as far as the kitchen before they have been devoured by eager little people but potatoes, courgettes, onions etc are delivered to our cook to be prepared and tasted or included in our general meals.
Our kitchens are literally and figuratively, the heart of the nurseries. With direct access to both our toddler and preschool rooms the children are regular visitors to the kitchens. They all know our wonderful cooks Carol and Sinead who takes great care to consider the needs of individual children, especially those who have special dietary requirement or other challenges around food and eating. We have found, with great success, that if a child is hesitant to try foods, we can let them work in the kitchen helping to cook dishes and this will often breakdown their anxieties and encourage that first mouthful of something new, and there is no one more excited, or proud, than our cooks at these moments!
We use the principles of healthy eating and growing food as a gateway to many areas of development, learning and exploration. Food play is central from very early on. Babies will often use fruits and vegetables in their activities using them to print in paint or simply as an object for exploration during sensory play. If we are using food in play then part of the joy is that children can touch, smell, see and taste, a fully sensory experience!