Pre-school recipe for a healthy life

There is no doubt that three and four-year-old Scottish children should have the opportunity to have the same kind of lunchtime experience as their peers in Pistoia in northern Italy. Scottish nursery schools and pre-school establishments should have the time, space and will to make mealtimes a real socially interactive experience. They, too, should learn to eat with proper cutlery, ceramic plates and glasses, and talk with the adults sharing their meal.

But it won't happen as long as entitlement to free nursery education in Scotland is a mere two-and-a-half hours a day. That gives only enough time to share a snack - hopefully some fruit - and a drink. It is certainly not enough time to inculcate the how and the what of healthy eating. Even those children who spend their whole day at nursery rarely enjoy the quality experience of which Italy can boast; too often they are consigned to the solitary pastime of delving into their lunch box, which mum has probably packed with familiar, and probably not very healthy, snacks.

The prospect of pre-school Scottish children cooking soup, elk steak or other delicacies on an open fire is even less likely. While many in the pre-school sector would argue that Care Commission officials are prepared to back well thought-out programmes that allow children to take some risks, there are equal numbers who criticise environmental health officials for tying them up in health and safety red tape and expense.

Surely it is time to recognise that allowing children to participate in food preparation helps their enjoyment and adds to their confidence. No one is advocating putting three-year-olds in charge of deep fat friers, but there are plenty of other activities in the kitchen which could spark their interest and whet their appetite.

Uptake of meals in secondary schools has dropped since the Scottish Executive's Hungry for Success initiative was implemented as a healthy eating policy. Officials hope that the strides being made in primary schools will spill over to secondary when these children make the transition. But this will only happen if whole families adopt better eating habits, and when junk food is not being served on the school's doorstep.

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