At Acorn, the child is at the heart of everything we do, and within this, we recognise the significant importance that nutrition has within the early years of a child’s development. Therefore, our approach to food consists of many different careful considerations, all of which aim to provide children with the very best possible start to their futures, including their physical and social development, as well as their ability to adopt as healthy and sustainable of a lifestyle as possible.

Our meals and snacks are planned according to national guidelines for food and drink in early years settings and we review these twice a year to ensure we are efficiently supporting children’s development. Our approach also takes focus on the following key areas:

Positive relationships with food

It is important to us that we can help children develop a healthy relationship with food in the early years of their life so that they are more likely to experience the benefits that this also brings later in their lifetime. Whilst the children are always offered a choice of a wide variety of fruits at snack times, our nurseries also focus on strategies such as exploring and discussing the diverse tastes and textures of many different food. This includes ensuring children have regular opportunities to see the different foods they are consuming, before they are cut up and combined with other ingredients.

Ensuring that mealtimes themselves are positive experiences also plays a huge part. Our practitioners always sit together with the children and encourage them to try all the food, focusing on praising the children for trying new foods no matter how little of it they have tried.

Mealtimes as social occasions

We always try to ensure that meal and snack times are not rushed and are used as learning opportunities and social occasions, and ensure that the atmosphere of mealtimes is calm, well-mannered, and sociable. For example, children are encouraged to wait for all meals to be served before they begin and to sit at the table until everyone has finished eating. Our practitioners also help by modelling and encouraging the development of pro-social behaviours and in order to enable our staff teams to do this as best as possible, we ensure that we provide free meals and snacks for all our staff on duty during mealtimes.

Healthy & sustainable lifestyle

We ensure that all our meals are homemade, using good quality, seasonal ingredients that are sourced from local suppliers where possible. Teaching children where their food comes from is very important to us, and so all our nurseries have a dedicated gardening space where children play an active role in growing and nurturing their own fruit and vegetables. The children are encouraged to look after the plants, observe their growth and harvest them when the time comes. This also leads to having conversations with the children about appreciating our food and not wasting it (check out our blog exploring our view on the ethics of using food for play). We have also recently welcomed Kat to our staff team, who is our gardener and who will be working with our nurseries to provide support in developing each garden space, as well as provide the expertise required in order to offer our children a wide range of learning opportunities of how to grow their own food. 

Our practitioners also plan and prepare different activities that encourage children to recognise healthy choices and promote a healthy diet and lifestyle. For example, all our settings provide cooking activities at least once every two weeks and our staff teams ensure that the recipes vary between sweet and savoury. The recipes are easy to follow, enabling children to be actively involved with weighing, measuring and combining.

“Acorn Early Years have gone above and beyond to make their food and nutrition provision meet the needs of children, parents/carers and staff. They have invested heavily in nutrition training for all staff in the group and have particularly looked at developing their chef’s knowledge and confidence around the nutritional value of their menus. Families have the support of the childcare team and the chef in developing their children’s enjoyment of good food. In Acorn Early Years food is as important as education, safety and having fun.”

Nigel Denby (Registered Dietitian)


Family partnerships 

It is also very important to us that we work in partnership with our families to agree on adaptations to our menus, should a child have a special diet or sensory sensitivity, and our nursery chefs also take on board parental feedback about their child’s likes and dislikes. Through our Famly app, families are informed daily, of how well and what their child has eaten each day. We also value working with our families because this plays a key role in helping children to learn about, respect and celebrate foods from a variety of different backgrounds. We encourage families to bring in foods or ingredients to make traditional foods that may not be included in our menus.

As an organisation, we are conscious of the impacts of food waste and we try to avoid it as much as possible in our nurseries, and so if any food is left over, our chefs are encouraged to box these up and offer these to our families. One of our nurseries puts together ‘left over Friday’ bags, which contains perishable ingredients (if there are any may not last until the Monday), and provides a recipe card alongside, which suggests a way to use up that ingredient, which families can take home, prepare and enjoy.

Families often ask us for the recipes that their children love at nursery and so we are very excited to share some news! We are launching our very own recipe book, which provides a collection of our favourite recipes, voted by the children themselves! 

The book is £5 per copy, with all the profits going to our hardship fund (find out more here).

If you are a parent/carer at one of our nurseries, please speak to your nursery manager to purchase a copy.

You can also purchase a copy on our website by clicking here. 

(One of our staff members has already been exploring the recipe book with her son and created the very popular spaghetti bolognese dish! She noted “My son helped to prepare and chop the vegetables following each step-by-step instruction. The meal was very popular with the whole family – clean plates all round!”)