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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April 2008, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
More fat, less fruit for toddlers
By Maddy Savage
Newsbeat reporter, St Leonards, East Sussex

Children at nursery
Some nurseries are too focussed on fruit and veg, say doctors
Nurseries are feeding children too much fruit and vegetables, and not enough fat, protein and sugar, according to a group of doctors and children's charities.

There are worries toddlers are missing out on vital nutrients needed to help them grow.

Two-year-old Hannah likes riding tricycles, going shopping with her dad, and eating lots.

When Newsbeat met her she was tucking into triangle-shaped cheese on toast, washed down with a glass of water from a flowery tumbler.

She mumbled that it was "delicious", but it's definitely not her favourite kind of food.

She said: "I like apples and pears best. Sometimes I have satsumas and they are very nice!"

Nutritionists' message

For any parent who has brought up a fussy eater, that probably sounds like a dream come true.

But nutritionists are warning too much fruit can actually cause problems for children her age.

What should be included in a toddler's daily diet?
Milk and dairy foods
Meat, fish, eggs, beans, peas and lentils
Bread, and other cereals such as rice, pasta and breakfast cereals
Fruit and vegetables

It is high in fibre which quickly fills up small tummies, meaning there isn't space for other important foods.

Experts say toddlers need very different diets to adults, including plenty of carbohydrates, sugar and even fat.

Hannah's nursery recently scored just two out of 10 in a food report by East Sussex Trading Standards.

Child nutritionist Sarah Almond analysed the meals and snacks she was being given.

She said: "Fruit and carrots were served too often, as well as things like popcorn, which is very light but has no nutritional value. Often the portions weren't big enough either."

Eighty per cent of nurseries she looked at in the area also got low scores.

She said: "They were applying the principles of adult healthy eating to young children."

"But whereas adults should go for skimmed milk or low calorie yoghurt, toddlers need the full fat stuff to help them grow and develop. Some fruit is great, but a few nurseries were giving kids 10, 12 even 14 portions a day!”

Guidelines needed

Children's educational charity The Pre-School Alliance believes nursery workers are making similar mistakes across the country.

It is campaigning for better guidelines from the government to help staff. Currently there are no rules on what they should feed toddlers, whereas schools are given strict guidelines and sample menus.

"I take my hat off to Jamie Oliver" said Director Neil Leitch. "His programmes have got the government to focus on children's diets in schools. But nursery staff need more support too.

What food should toddlers avoid?
Raw eggs and food that contains raw or partially cooked eggs because of the risk of salmonella
Whole or chopped nuts for children under five years old because of the risk of choking
Shark, swordfish and marlin because these fish contain relatively high levels of mercury

"Children under five are a crucial group, because that is the time when they are developing their tastes."

Many nursery teachers prepare meals on-site themselves. He says most have had no formal nutritional training, so they end up relying on diet tips meant for adults that they hear about in the media.

There is also pressure from parents, who are worried about child obesity and often wrongly believe low fat options are best for their children.

"There has been just too much focus on one message. The five-a-day campaign has almost become a victim of its own success," Leitch added.

"Nurseries and parents are telling us they want toddlers to have free fruit, like in schools, but they are not thinking about the other things that children need”.

New approach

Hannah's nursery is already making changes. Manager Penny White said: "It was a big shock to us that our meals weren't meeting the criteria.

Hannah's nursery now includes more fat in its menu
"We've swapped the popcorn and carrots for cheese and biscuits. Portions are bigger now for the main meals too.

"I've always believed a bit of fat is good and I feel happier giving it now that's what the nutritionist has recommended."

Hannah's dad Peter Fairless said he was impressed: "We weren't worried about the old menu, but we are happy with the changes. It is important to make sure the children get the right balance."

Steph Stockton has a two-year-old son at the nursery.

She said: "I was surprised the menu changed because it looked healthy before."

"It is strange to know he's eating more fatty foods now, because you do worry about child obesity. But he is coming home with so much more energy now and he is coming home full-up. So I am happy."

With four children aged between two and twenty she says it is also difficult for parents to know what kind if food to provide at home.

She said: "They don't have sweets every day and there is always fruit on the table. It is hard to know where to draw the line on how much of each food they should be allowed though."

Government pledge

The government is promising better guidelines for nursery staff and parents in September 2008, when a new framework for the teaching and care of young children comes in.

Fruit quickly fills up small tummies

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The Early Years Foundation Stage will require that, where meals and snacks are provided, they must be healthy, balanced and nutritious.

"Childcare providers are already encouraged to look at guidance from the Food Standards Agency, which provides age appropriate nutritional advice.”

Nursery manager Penny White said: "More detailed guidelines sound like a great idea.

"But I would also like to be offered some training, and advice on organising our budget to help us pay for the right sorts of foods."

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