Some children in your childcare setting may be required to follow a special diet. This could be for a number of reasons, including allergies, intolerances or medical needs. You may also have children that have dietary requirements based on cultural and religious beliefs. It is essential that your setting has detailed policies and clear procedures in place to ensure you safely meet children’s individual dietary requirements. In this months blog we’ll explore some of the key considerations around managing dietary requirements based on the Eat Better Start Better Guidelines.
It is a legal requirement that your early years setting finds out from parents if their child has any special dietary requirements, food allergies or special health requirements. The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS) outlines the following advice:
- Before a child is admitted to the setting the provider must obtain information about any special dietary requirements, preferences and food allergies that the child has, and any special health requirements; and
- Providers must record and act on information from parents and carers about a child’s dietary needs.
Step- by- step guide to managing special dietary requirements
Request information from the child’s parent/carer, so you are aware of the child’s dietary requirements before they start at your setting.
The easiest way to collect this information from families is to include questions around allergies and special dietary requirements on your registration form. Consider including the following questions:
- Does your child have any food allergies?
- If so, give details
- Does your child have any dietary requirements?
- If so, give details
- Has your child’s food allergy been diagnosed by a Health Care Profession e.g. GP or a Registered Dietitian?
- Do you have an allergy management care plan from a Health Care Professional?
- Symptoms of an allergic reaction. Please give as much detail as possible.
- Has your child been prescribed any medication relating to their food allergy?
- Please give details of the emergency procedures.
Note: If a special diet is requested for medical reasons, written confirmation of the allergy/medical is needed from the child’s GP, dietitian or other medical professional to make sure children are not having foods removed from their diet without a diagnosed medical need.
Work with the child’s parent/ carer (and medical professionals if required) to write and agree a clear plan of how to manage the child’s special dietary requirement.
This should describe:
- Details of their special dietary requirement/s and a clear list of the foods which can and can’t be eaten
- How meals and snacks will be provided (e.g. whether appropriate meals will be identified or adapted from the existing menu, or whether suitable foods will be prepared or supplied separately)
- Precautions to take during activities involving food e.g. crafts using food packaging/ messy play using food
- The action to take in the event of an emergency (e.g. allergic reaction), including names, dose and administration of any prescribed medication, and the staff trained to administer it.
Ensure that all staff are fully informed (and fully understand) children’s individual dietary requirements, and how these are being met, so they can ensure appropriate food is provided.
Ensure this information is easily available for all staff, for example by displaying details and photos of children with special dietary requirements in the kitchen, and also where food is served to the children. It’s important that staff have a good understanding of managing food allergies and special dietary requirements so that children’s choices, beliefs and safety are respected and protected. Book our Menu Planning training to help build staff knowledge and confidence in understanding special dietary requirements.
Ensure that the food you provide reflects the written recipes and allergen information (this should be covered in your Food and Drink Policy).
It’s important that every child feels valued, included and support to have healthy food and drink choices appropriate for their needs. Ensure you plan your menus to include suitable recipes and ingredients for the children with special dietary requirements. Try to ensure the foods and meals offered to these children are as similar as possible to the foods that other children in your setting receive. It’s also important that you have processes in place to routinely check the ingredients and allergen information of food products (even those you frequently buy) as they can often change the ingredients they use. You should also ensure that your setting upholds excellent food hygiene principles to reduce the risk of cross-contamination as well as separation and labelling of ingredients and foods. Please note that the EYFS framework states ‘all staff involved in preparing and handling food must receive training in food hygiene.’
Did you know?
New Legislation came into force in December 2014 – ‘Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC)’, that now requires food businesses (including Nurseries or Day Cares) to provide information about the 14 allergenic ingredients used in any food they provide.
Consider how you display allergy information in your setting, for example- is it featured on your menus or do you have a separate list detailing the allergens in different dishes you serve.
Please find further information on the ‘Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC)’ and access the 14 allergen chart on the Food Standards agency website.
Ensure that staff know how to deal with a severe allergic reaction
Any child with a food allergy should have a care plan in place, detailing any usual symptoms of an allergic reaction. Staff should understand however that allergic reactions among children can be different, even if they are allergic to the same food. It’s essential that staff know the warning signs to look out for- for example difficulty breathing, swollen lips or mouth, or collapsing. If practitioners notice any of the above they should call 999 immediately and explain that the child may be having a serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. The emergency procedures should be included in a child’s care plan and practitioners should follow the procedures described. If they carry an Epipen it should be administered as described in their care plan. For more information on signs and symptoms of food allergies, visit NHS or Allergy UK.
A note for Children’s Centres
Some Children’s Centres provide snacks during their sessions such as stay and play. While parents and carers will be caring for children in this time, it’s important you carefully consider the management of food allergies. For example:
- Speak to parents at the start of the group to see if there are any children in attendance who have a food allergy. Consider asking families to sign an allergy disclaimer form
- Clearly label the foods on offer and highlight any allergenic ingredients- use the list above to guide you
- Display the packaging of any foods you provide so families can check for allergen ingredients
- Make sure that any allergy medication is easily accessible if families need it
- Outline your allergy management plan in your settings Food Policy.
Please note this blog is an introduction to managing food allergies in your setting. For more information book our online Menu Planning training.