Dietary Requirements and Allergy Management in your Early Years Setting

Dietary Requirements and Allergy Management in your Early Years Setting

In this blog we explore some of the key considerations around allergy management in your early years setting, along with how to meet children’s dietary requirements, as outlined in the Eat Better Start Better Guidelines.

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’s essential that your setting has detailed policies and clear procedures in place to ensure you safely meet children’s individual dietary requirements.


Image of some allergenic foods such as milk, eggs, fish, soya, nuts

It’s 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:

All providers must take all necessary steps to keep children safe and well and you must be confident that those responsible for preparing and handling food in your setting are competent to do so.

1) 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.

2) Providers must record and act on information from parents and carers about a child’s dietary needs.

3) There should be a protocol in place which is accessible to all staff, to ensure everyone is aware of individual children’s allergies and symptoms.

Step- by- step guide to dietary requirements and allergy management in your early years setting:

Request information from the child’s parent/ carer, so you’re 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. a GP or a Registered Dietitian?
  • Do you have an allergy management plan from a Health Care Professional?
  • Describe the 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 is needed from the child’s GP, dietitian or other medical professional. This will make sure children are not having foods removed from their diet without a diagnosed medical need.

Image of parent sharing information with a nursery practitioner

Work with the child’s parent/ carer (and medical professionals if required) to write and agree a clear plan of how to manage their special dietary requirement/s.

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.

Image of parent providing information on a form about their child's dietary requirements

Make sure all staff are fully informed, to ensure effective allergy management in your early years setting.

It’s essential that all staff are fully informed (and fully understand) children’s individual dietary requirements, and how these are being met, so they can make sure appropriate food is provided. Ensure allergy management and special dietary requirement information is easily accessible to 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 allergy management 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.

Nursery staff with children at meal time

Ensure that the food you provide reflects the written recipes, to help with allergy management in your early years setting.

It’s important that every child feels valued, included and supported 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.

Another important step to take in regards to allergy management in your early years setting, is to routinely check the ingredients and allergen information of food products (even those you frequently buy) as they can change the ingredients they use.

You should 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.’

Woman checking food labels in a shop

Did you know?

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 of the 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?

You can find further information on the ‘Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC)’ and access the 14 allergen chart on the Food Standards agency website.

Images of the 14 main allergens including peanut, nuts, sesame seeds, soya, sulphur doxide, lupin, mustard, milk, cereals containing gluten, celery, eggs, molluscs, crustaceans, fish

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. However, staff should understand that allergic reactions can be different for each person.

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 will be caring for children in this time, it’s important you still carefully consider allergy management in your early years setting. 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 onlineMenu Planning training.

Image of a nutrition label

Useful resources

Early Start Nutrition Training

  • You can find out more information on planning meals and snacks for children with special dietary requirements in our Menu Planning training
  • There is also lots of support on reflecting your policy around allergies and special dietary requirements in our Developing a Food Policy training

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