Kids' dietary needsOfsted warning on children's food allergies

30 March 2006

Some apples

Most childminders and nurseries provide a healthy diet for young children, government inspectors reveal today.

Education watchdog Ofsted said a survey of 110 nurseries and childminders found that three-quarters of the childminders and two thirds of the nurseries were 'good' or 'outstanding' when it came to providing children with a healthy diet.

But the inspectors warned that young children could be at risk because some nursery staff are unaware of their food allergies. They also found that one in ten childminders and nurseries offer children sweets, biscuits or trips to fast-food outlets as treats.

Nurseries and carers ask about dietary needs

The Ofsted report said all the nurseries and carers who took part in the survey asked parents for information on their children's dietary needs.

However, it added: 'The weaker providers were poor at recording and using this information and updating it regularly. They also did not ensure all staff working with the children were aware of their allergies.

'Clearly, for those children with food intolerances or allergies, the poor communication and recording of dietary information may put these children at risk.'

The report cited a case where staff looking after a girl with a nut allergy were unaware of her condition and were 'unclear of signs and symptoms'.

Sweets as a reward

Some nurseries and childminders were trying to hide healthy vegetables on the plate or giving children sweets as a reward for trying fresh fruit. This, the Ofsted report said, gave children 'very mixed messages'.

The survey found that 11 providers understood what made healthy and nutritious snacks and meals but didn't always use this knowledge, offering sweets, crisps and biscuits, and even trips to fast-food chains as treats or for snacks. Six providers offered sweets as a reward for trying fruit and vegetables, or gave an unhealthy option as a treat.

Inspectors said some child carers were also reluctant to tackle parents over unhealthy food in lunch-boxes.

But overall Ofsted said the meals and snacks prepared by nurseries and childminders were usually healthy and many child carers made sure children ate five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Ofsted's Dorian Bradley said: 'The picture looks rosy. Child carers, in the main, have embraced the concept of healthy eating and the wider benefits gained from it.'