Improving childhood nutrition
My name is Jo Ingleby and I am the chef for Redcliffe Children’s Centre. We are a state-run Children’s Centre, serving the local community. Many of our children are from low-income families and eligible for free childcare places.
The Food Project
At Redcliffe we have 140 children aged between 2 and 4. I have the pleasure of running the Food Project at the Centre, providing healthy lunches and teas for the children. All of the children and staff are involved in the Food Project and take part in regular Food Sessions where they explore growing produce and gardening on the allotment at Windmill Hill City Farm.
The Food Project is focussed on encouraging children to explore food, especially fresh produce without using recipes or predicting an end result; we call this ‘experimental cookery’. We don’t bake cakes or ice biscuits with the children, as we already know how much they like eating sweet things!
When we started out we didn’t even have a kitchen. These days we have a child height kitchen, a fold-out kitchenette and a kitchen for our younger children aged 2-3. We run training and deliver an accredited course for practitioners in Experimental Cookery so others can follow our lead.
Accessing healthy food
At the time when children should be getting the best first introduction to food possible they are restricted by what is made available to Early Years settings. Under fours do not qualify for the Universal Infant Free School Meals, unless they attend a nursery class in a school where they often eat for free.
Children’s Centres are also not eligible for the Free School Fruit scheme which, again, young children in a nursery class of a school can access. This is wildly unfair and we do our best to try and make changes, but in the present financial climate this is hard. At Redcliffe, I cook delicious healthy meals from scratch every day with my growing team of enthusiastic cooks. We see healthy and delicious food as a right for young children in our care, rather than a luxury, and have worked hard for the last 10 years to build this.
Support from Better Food
This year we are delighted to have been offered support from Better Food who are providing us with a delicious box of their best organic fruit for free every week. This is proving to be a huge hit with the children! We can now explore fruit in our Food Sessions and offer a varied range to taste during our snack times.
So far the children have tasted different plums (most hadn’t tasted them before) and they have loved trying different types of English apples. We have also been able to give free fruit to our families as they drop off their children. We are looking forward to the changing seasons and the different produce this will bring, thank you Better Food for your support!
For more information about Redcliffe Children’s Centre please visit redcliffechildrenscentre.co.uk
The next Experimental Cookery course begins on November 2nd and can be booked the website
Follow Jo on twitter @tasteandseason
School Head Elizabeth Carruthers won 2014 Local Hero at the BBC Food and Farming Awards and Jo, the author of this article, BBC Cook of the Year Award.
Last Week Redcliffes Children’s Centre were awarded the Nursery World Award for Best Nursery Food which they are understandably hugely proud of.