Top Tips for Meal Preparation

As Early Years settings you play an important role in providing healthy and balanced menus that meet the current national guidelines, Children’s Food Trust Eat Better Start Better Voluntary Food and Drink Guideline. As we know, the early years are a crucial time for children’s development. One in five children are already overweight or obese before they start school according to Childhood Obesity Strategy 2016. Early Years settings such as nurseries and day-carers play a central role in supporting young children and their families to establish healthy eating habits to take with them into their school years. To maximise children’s enjoyment of meals it is important to consider including a variety of foods, tastes, textures and colours. It is also important to plan your menus well in advance, ideally a three to four week cycle. Advanced preparation supports you in checking stock cupboard ingredients, planning shopping lists and ensuring the chef and staff know what they are preparing in advance.

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The current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) guidelines state “meals, snacks and drinks must be healthy, balanced and nutritious”. To support you in achieving these guidelines book a place on the Wellbeing and Nutrition teams Menu Planning training.

When preparing meals and snacks have you considered the following key points?

1. If providing tinned soups the salt content should not be more than 1.5g per 100g. Soups with salt above this amount are not permitted.

  • Top Tip Have you consider making your own soup? Soups can be prepared in bulk and frozen to save time
  • If you are freezing an item always ensure you label it and include the following information: Date of freezing, name of food, including a list of all ingredients, particularly any allergens present
  • Choose fish that are sustainably sourced

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Soup Recipe: Smoked Haddock and sweetcorn soup (serves 6 to 8)


  • A teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 200g potato chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 600ml milk
  • 400ml vegetable stock (low salt)
  • 300g smoked haddock, skinned and cut into 1cm pieces
  • 325g can sweetcorn, tinned in water, drained


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for around 5 mins until softened, then add the potato and cook for another 5 mins.
  2. Stir the flour into the potato, and cook for a couple of mins, then gradually add the milk and low salt stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10-15 mins until the potato is almost cooked. Add the haddock and sweetcorn to the pan, and simmer for a further 5 mins. Stir the remaining parsley into the soup and serve with bread.

2. Pasta sauces, curry sauces, stir fry sauces and any other jarred sauces are not permitted.

  • Top Tip Have you consider making your own tomato sauce? By preparing the sauce yourself at least you know exactly what is in there.
  • Shop bought 750g jar of Bolognese sauces contains almost 8 tsp of sugar and it is expensive!

Sauce Recipe:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and cook on a low heat until soft. Add the garlic and tomato purée. Cook for a few minutes then add the chopped tomatoes and oregano. Simmer for 20 mins, then allow to cool.
  2. Store in sterilised jars in the fridge for up to 1 week, or transfer to a container and freeze for up to 2 months.

3. If using stock cubes they should be reduced salt varities, gravy granules should be reduced salt, All purpose seasonings such as fajita, jerk chicken and other mixed seasonings are not included. Salt is not added during the cooking process or at the table

  • Top Tip Have you consider making your own fajita mix? By preparing the yourself at least you know exactly what is in there and you can ensure there is not added salt or sugar.


  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 TBSP ground paprika
  • 1 TBSP onion powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder (optional- this adds quite a bit of heat)
  • 2 TBSP cumin powder


Stir cornflour, chilli powder, salt, paprika, sugar, onion granules, garlic granules, cayenne pepper and cumin together in a small bowl.

Additional Points to Check

  • Fruit and fruit puree should be used to sweeten dishes rather than sugar
  • Cooking oil and spreads should be vegetable based (e.g. sunflower, olive, rapeseed) not animal based e.g. butter, lard or ghee
  • Cooking oil should be used in small quantities e.g. max of 1 teaspoon per child
  • Deep fried foods are not permitted
  • Pastry, when used should be as thin as possible and should not be used to make individual pies
  • Avoid foods and drinks containing artificial sweeteners. They may encourage children to prefer very sweet foods. Example of sweeteners include Aspartame (E951), Saccharin (E954), Sorbitol (E420), Acesulfame K (E950) and Sucralose (E955).
  • Preservatives to avoid; Sodium benzoate (E211).
  • Colours to avoid; Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline yellow (E104), Sunset yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura red (E129).

Children should be able to get all the energy and nutrients they need from a balanced diet, containing foods that are readily available and easy to prepare from scratch. Avoid the off-the-shelf ready meals and snack foods designed for young children, as these are often high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. In addition, off-the-shelf ready meals designed for older children and adults should also not be given to children of this age. Avoid take-away foods as these are often high in salt, saturated fat and sugar. Avoid functional foods such as cholesterol lowering or very high fibre products as these are designed for adults and should not be provided to young children.

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