Healthy snacks are proving a hit with youngsters at nurseries thanks to a nutrition scheme being rolled out across Gwynedd and Anglesey.
It encourages adults looking after pre-school children to opt for fresh vegetables, tooth-friendly drinks and energy boosting foods low in sugar and fat.
The first play groups to be accredited under the scheme and receive their Tiny Tums Best Practice certificates are Ysgol Feithrin Pencarnisiog, near Rhosneigr, Anglesey, and Cylch Meithrin Dolgellau.
Staff attended sessions on healthy eating for pre-school children and adapted menus to meet recommended healthy food and drink guidelines set out by the Welsh Government.
Leaders at both groups are now encouraging others running pre-school groups to follow the initiative, which also encourages families to follow the healthy eating programme.
The course, delivered by registered dietitians from the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, provides expert information and support to those working with children aged one to four. It was introduced last autumn in Gwynedd and Anglesey after running successfully elsewhere in North Wales.
Eleri Lewis and Eirian Davenport, co-leaders at Cylch Meithrin Dolgellau, where their certificate is proudly displayed on the wall, said Tiny Tums has made a huge difference to snack times at the nursery, which meets daily at Y Festri, Capel Tabernacl.
Eirian said: “It’s true to say our mid morning break is a lot morelively an occasion nowadays than it ever was. We always provided healthy food before, but since we completed the nutrition course we’ve widened the scope on the type of food we offer children and how it is presented.
“The enthusiasm of our youngsters every break time is testimony to how successful the changes have been. These days they’re always inquisitive about the menu: what will it be today, what will it taste like, is it something they haven’t tried before?”
Previously Eirian and Eleri provided traditional snacks like cheese, toast, apples, bananas and grapes, and stuck to similar ingredients each day.
Now they vary the menu and the flavours a lot more, while always maintaining high standards of nutrition specifically suitable for pre-school youngsters.
Eirian added: “We even have ingredients such as cous cous, humous, wraps and rice cakes on the menu now. In the past we would never have thought of giving humous to our younger age children, but they can’t get enough of it.”
The nursery’s three week rotating menu also includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetable sticks.
Feedback from parents has been positive with some asking for recipe tips on snack ideas to give their children at home.
Eleri said: “We post the weekly menu on a notice board at the entrance and parents are always interested to know what the food choices are for the days ahead. We’ve been so impressed with Tiny Tums that we’re now following through with further healthy and sustainable eating courses to keep up the momentum and ensure our youngsters get the healthiest choices possible.”
Paula Evans, who has been a leader at Ysgol Feithrin Pencarnisiog for the last five years, agreed Tiny Tums had been hugely beneficial to both children and nursery staff.
She said: “It’s given us the inspiration and the knowledge to look at many more options for snacks for this age group and to help explain to the children why certain foods are so much more healthy for them and give them extra energy.
“We also present the food in a different way too, with more colour and textures to compliment each other – for example, they love tomatoes and peppers with breadsticks.
“We also find that children are eating some healthy foods, which they might have resisted before at home. As they can see their friends enjoying them here, they now want to try them out too.”
BCUHB public health dietitian Iona Jones said: “Tiny Tums was set up by our team to support and reward nurseries and playgroups that provide high quality food and drink for children in their care.
“Playgroups and nurseries have been keen to work with us, making changes to their menus so that more homemade meals, tooth-friendly drinks and snacks are offered and overall menus are higher in fruit and vegetables and lower in sugar, salt and saturated fat.
“The Tiny Tums award is presented to nurseries and playgroups that create a supportive food and drink environment for children in their care, thus contributing towards good dietary habits, improved oral health and healthy weight management in preschool aged children.
“It is offered to playgroups who have attended training sessions on healthy eating for pre-school children delivered by the public health dietitians. Registered nurseries and childminders can also apply for the award following completion of the WEA Cymru accredited Level 2 course in Community Food and Nutrition Skills for the Early Years.
“The dietitians in Gwynedd and Anglesey are planning to support more playgroups and nurseries to achieve the best practice certificate, which has been available in other North Wales counties.”
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is the largest health organisation in Wales, employing around 16,100 staff. It provides a full range of primary, community, mental health and acute hospital services for a population of around 676,000 people across North Wales as well as some parts of mid Wales, Cheshire and Shropshire.
It runs Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham Maelor Hospital as well as 18 other acute and community hospitals and a network of over 90 health centres, clinics, community health team bases and mental health units. The Health Board also coordinates the work of 115 GP practices and NHS services provided by North Wales dentists, opticians and pharmacies.
BCUHB’s new chief executive is Gary Doherty, currently Chief Executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and previously Deputy Chief Executive of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.