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Nursery Guidelines

On 16th January 2012 The Children’s Food Trust introduced a set of Food and Drink Guidelines for early years settings in England.  The guidelines, whilst currently voluntary, detail how often, how much, and which types of food should be provided for children aged 1 – 5 years.  It also lists foods and ingredients that need to be limited or avoided for the menu as a whole and for individual meals & snacks.

Are your current nursery menus meeting government guidelines for under-5’s? Menu Matters can enable your nursery to become compliant with UK nutritional guidelines

Current Regulations & Guidelines

In January 2012 the Children’s Food Trust introduced a set of Food and Drink guidelines for early years settings in England. The guidelines, whilst currently voluntary, detail how often, how much, and which types of food should be provided for children aged 1 – 5 years.

It also lists food and ingredients that need to be limited or avoided for the menu a a whole and for individual meals and snacks. The food and drink guidelines are underpinned by a Nutrient Framework, which defines the level of 12 different nutrients that children should gain from their nursery food. A menu that is compliant to these guidelines for the under-5’s in childcare will satisfy the nutritional needs of this age group.

By adopting these guidelines you will help to ensure that the nutritional requirements of children in your care are met. Since September 2008 it has been mandatory for primary schools to adhere to government regulations for food-based and nutrient-based standards for school meals. These standards became mandatory for secondary schools in September 2009 and there have been calls for nursery food to be regulated in the same way.

Studies have shown that the majority of nurseries are failing to provide menus that meet guidelines, and that there is mounting pressure for the regulation of food served in these establishments.


From 13 December 2014, all food businesses including nurseries and childminders need to provide allergen information on the foods they provide. It needs to be accurate, consistent and verifiable and should be easily accessible and readily available to parents and children.

Why were the guidelines set?

The guidelines were set following the result of a series of studies on nursery nutrition which consistently highlighted inadequacies in nursery food.  With 1 in 5 children starting school obese, obesity is becoming an increasing problem in the UK and evidence that diet is linked to success in early years.  The importance of serving the nutritionally balanced meals at nursery is vital.

There is evidence that the diets of under-5’s in the UK are

  • too low in Vitamins A and C
  • too low in iron and zinc
  • too low in Vitamin D in certain groups of children
  • lacking in fruits and vegetables
  • too high in salt
  • too high in the types of sugars which contribute to tooth decay

Currently in the UK

  • 1 in 5 children start school obese
  • Type 11 diabetes is starting to be seen in obese children
  • Dental health is poor in many young children
  • Cases of rickets are increasing
  • More than 1 in 4 children may be at risk from iron deficiency which is linked to slower intellectual development and poor behaviour in the longer term

Initially in 2006 the Caroline Walker Trust CWT issued nutritional guidance for nurseries because research showed that the diets of many under-5’s are inadequate.  The Caroline Walker Trust (CWT) is a registered charity that promotes better public health through good food.  The trust is widely regarded as the main authority on nursery nutrition and they provide practical and nutritional guidelines to this age group in daycare settings.

Subsequent studies in nursery menus used the CWT guidance as a benchmark for reporting.  The George Porgie report, published in autumn 2008 achieved significant TV and press publicity.  More recently in January 2010 a Panorama report stated that the results of a national survey of nursery food identified the following problems:

  • None provided enough energy
  • None provided sufficient iron or zinc

A similar survey in Liverpool, executed by Menu Matters on behalf of the Liverpool Health and Wellbeing Trust, and used as part of the consultation phase in producing the guidelines, showed that from 34 nurseries across Liverpool:

  • All nurseries were deficient in energy, iron and zing
  • 85% had salt levels which exceeded guidelines

The School Fund Trust reviewed this study along with others, showing similar trends across the country and have formulated a set of nutritional guidelines to address the deficiencies highlighted, and which, if adopted will ensure that children’s nutritional needs are met whilst they are at nursery.

The Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie Report


The report details how there are no clear nutritional standards in place in nurseries, and calls for the implementation of Caroline Walker Trust nutrient-based standards in all nurseries.
Exposing the truth about nursery food


In the Press

You can read all the latest news and articles on food regulations & guidelines in our News section.  CLICK HERE to read the latest posts.

Menu Matters can help:

Send us your Menus and recipes and we will review them against the guidelines. Our team can advise why and how changes may be required to ensure that your menus meet the guidelines. Furthermore, in many cases this may also save you money in terms of ingredient cost.