Nursery kids build appetite for healthy eating

19th November 2010 at 00:00
Early years training programme bears fruit as children and their families learn to appreciate good food

Clap for a carrot, run for a raspberry, bounce for a beetroot, march for a mango, turn for a turnip. It's a wonder the pre-fives at Wallacetown Nursery in Ayr can sit still at mealtimes, with all these healthy-eating songs and dances going round in their heads.

But these messages - and others embedded in daily routines - are making a big difference to children's health and behaviour, believes Sylvia Kavanagh, the headteacher. Given the choice, most children at the nursery choose a piece of fruit over crisps or biscuits for a snack.

Last month, the "munch and crunch" workshop, presented by Wallacetown Nursery staff, was one of the most popular at a special Curriculum for Excellence good practice conference held by South Ayrshire Council for teachers.

Participants might have expected to sit through a PowerPoint presentation. They were wrong. They had to "clap for a carrot", do the "breakfast bookie" and their own version of a supermarket dash - just like the two- to five-year-olds.

Most of the healthy-eating songs originate from the Sticky Kids catalogue, one of the leading under-sevens' resource providers. Nan Killick, one of Wallacetown's nursery nurses, is a huge fan: "The kids are keeping fit and not realising they're being given a healthy-eating message, because they're having fun."

But the "munch and crunch" sessions, combining music, movement and food, do not stop with the children. The nursery's remit includes the Government-funded Sure Start scheme, which means it has children as young as two, and a responsibility to support the whole family. So parents are encouraged to join in the songs and activities and are rewarded with a fruit feast at the end.

"Parents often don't believe how much fruit their children will eat. It allows them to see that they can then buy exotic fruit for them and know it won't be wasted," says Mrs Kavanagh.

The nursery hosts parent workshops, and the cookery session delivered by the maternal and child nutrition department of NHS Ayrshire and Arran is the most popular.

"Michele Thomson lures them to the cookery workshop with smoothies. She stands in the entrance hall and tells them how easily and cheaply they can make them," says Mrs Kavanagh.

The support is particularly appreciated by parents of picky eaters, because they discuss the different things the children can try.

One nursery nurse carried out a survey before the summer, asking children what their favourite snack was. Fruit came top, over yoghurts, crackers and cheese, toast and crisps.

Wallacetown Nursery offers only half-day sessions and does not provide lunch for the children. But staff know that some come in hungry, so they ensure they eat lots of snacks and send them home with fruit and milk. Some mums, however, have changed their family eating habits as a result of the Munch Crunch cookery classes.

Siobhan McAnespie, mother of four-year-old Eilidh, describes how Michelle Johnston taught her to cook various dishes from scratch, without the added salts and sugars of ready meals. She now makes her own soups, curries, pizzas and smoothies. And since learning that a sausage roll has the equivalent of seven to 10 portions of butter, she won't serve one to her daughter.

Siobhan McLaughlin, mother of four-year-old Aairan, describes how she fought with her own mother when she gave Aairan a fizzy drink in a baby's bottle. She says her son is calmer and better-behaved now he no longer takes fizzy, sugary drinks.

Kelly Keaney, who has three boys, describes how some children's teeth were rotted by sugary drinks. Her boys will eat anything now - and often ask for an apple when she's in the grocer's.


  • Original headline: Nursery kids build up their appetite for healthy eating

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