Childbase Partnership have 41 day nurseries in the South of England. They provide 6,000 children with exceptional care and education. The award-winning, employee owned nurseries achieved a bronze Food for Life Served Here award in May 2018 and now serve 120,000 meals each week.
Before embarking on their Food for Life Served Here journey, Childbase had invested heavily into early years nutrition.
This involved continually developing their menus, with the aid of an expert team of chefs and nutritionists.
Ensuring quality home cooked meals and actively supporting children’s growth, development and concentration has always been at the centre of their menu development.
The piece of mind given to parents from an external accreditation made achieving a Food for Life Served Here award the next step on their food journey.
The Food for Life Served Here framework inspired a thorough review of everything food related, to ensure they could consistently meet the awards criteria, in practice and in spirit, for the long term.
Random ‘Spot Checks’ of food receipts and invoices were introduced which continue now throughout the year until all 41 nurseries have been scrutinised to ensure continuing compliance.
The process of centralising food supplies for the nurseries began in 2013, following the meat crisis, to ensure a simple supply chain enabling them to maintain quality and easily trace and monitor foodstuffs from producer to nursery dining room table.
A 15 year relationship with their accredited food supplier meant that Childbase already had robust quality assurance procedures in place and had removed salt and nearly all but the minimum of sugar from their menus.
They engaged chefs company-wide on the Food for Life Served Here process through their annual conference, consultations and training programmes.
Mark Bird is Health, Safety and Environment Manager, and has managed the implementation of the Food for Life Served Here standards across all the Childbase sites, we caught up with Mark to discuss their thoughts and feedback on their Food for Life journey.
Why did you decide to apply for Food for Life Served Here accreditation?
Finding The’ Food for Life Served Here’ Award scheme, a recognised mark of quality, not only substantially aids our commitment to continuous improvement but provides our parents with absolute assurance that their children are receiving the best possible nutrition in our nurseries, and so much more.
Given crises in the food supply sector in recent years, and the fact that parents are now better informed and discerning about their children’s nutrition, this level of reassurance cannot be underestimated.
What steps did you take to ensure you were ‘inspection ready’?
Communicating the new menus and approach to our colleagues and nursery parents was prioritised because each setting serves a variety of different needs and food preferences in locations from Nottingham to Swindon. New posters and notices were created to show food provenance, and engaging with parents in nursery forums helped to spread the word that meat-free days and a greater range of plant based meals and snacks would provide the nutritional value needed for children to thrive.
We also focused on involving the children showing them new ingredients like lentils and chickpeas before cooking and then seeking their opinions on recipes after the meal. Chefs regularly appear in age-appropriate play and learning rooms after meals are finished to canvas opinion. As one Chef tells us:
"Children like change if they have a say in it. Asking them what they like or don’t like about a dish is important as less or more spice can make a huge difference. They also ‘eat with their eyes’ so simply changing the way food is presented often makes it more appealing.”
How did you find the inspection itself?
The inspector was very knowledgeable and friendly, engaging with staff, children and the chef. The scale of material and practice assessed was surprising but the feedback and advice was invaluable and has enabled us to tweak processes to achieve further improvements.
How about your staff?
While everyone has embraced the new menus, particular support was required for our chefs who were asked to drop traditionally popular meals from their menus and work with ingredients they had not previously used in nursery. Strict adherence to the new menus was needed at the start, to ensure everyone was competently producing meals to the appropriate standard, but we are now looking at providing opportunities for chefs to indulge their creativity within the guidelines. They are currently creating recipes using the ingredients supplied which we will assess at our next conference or training day.
We have also increased the number of training sessions for chefs to four a year to include food demonstrations and refresher training in, for example, knife skills and catering practice.
Have there been any unexpected benefits?
The focus on the quality of our food has led to increased efforts to reduce its waste. Passionate about protecting the environment for our children – all 41 settings and Head Office are powered by ‘Green Electricity’ from renewable sources like the sun and wind, and we are committed to maintaining ‘zero waste to landfill’ – so food leftovers are measured to help inform portion size and adjust menus to reflect differing tastes and preferences in individual nurseries.
We have calculated that each kilogram of food waste, collected by specialist contractors for composting, costs us 12p to remove which is an unnecessary and totally avoidable cost. Composting is also being introduced in nurseries and, together with vegetable growing activities in special garden allotment areas, provides valuable learning opportunities for children and supports our ‘Eco-School Project’ initiatives.
What impact has Food for Life Served Here had on the nursery?
We expected parents to welcome the new menus, given the research and evidence supporting them, but have been surprised by the number of letters praising the move and detailing children’s preference for treats like Oat and Banana Balls, over chocolate and sweets offered outside nursery.
Our chefs are inundated with requests for recipes so we are currently looking into producing a book of recipes for parents.
Parents are encouraged by Childbase’s active engagement with an independently inspected accreditation. The framework inspires the team to strive for the best, encouraging transparency and ethically conscious cooking. The award will remain an integral part of Childbase’s offer, and with such great feedback from parents and children alike, the Food for Life team look forward to the recipe book. To find out more about the standards Childbase have achieved, the process for application and to book an appointment with your local Food for Life Served Here development manager, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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