childfoodtrustAhead of her talk at JFHC Nutrition Day 2012 [click here to register] Senior Manager Research and Nutrition for the Children's Food Trust Jo Nicholas explains why good food in early years settings and schools is an essential in any circumstance:

How many times a month do you find yourself giving advice on eating better to families? How often are you working with children (and parents) whose poor diets are affecting their health?
In the last month alone we've seen so many stories in the news about the pressure on food banks and breakfast clubs as families struggle to find money for food, and continuing concerns about foods high in fat, sugar and salt in children's diets as the financial squeeze continues and cash-strapped families seek to make their budgets go further than ever.
You'll know that helping to these children to eat well is vital. That's why good food in early years settings and schools should be a non-negotiable. Here are the top things you need to know:
• Since the introduction of national school food standards, the proportion of primary school children having vegetables or salad with their school lunch has increased by 14%, from 59% in 2005 to 73% in 2009. Levels of fat, saturated fat and sugar are all down in the average school lunch, with salt down by at least a third.
• Good food at school doesn't just help to teach pupils about making balanced choices; it's also important for their performance in class. Our research shows that when children eat a healthier lunch in a pleasant environment, they are more focused with their teachers in the afternoon.
• We've got to reverse decades of decline in cooking skills if we want to improve diet. Our Let's Get Cooking programme in schools has reached more than 2 million people so far; more than half say they eat more healthily at home as a result of learning new, healthy cooking skills
• The first 1000 days of life - from conception to their second birthday - is when a child most needs nutritious food. In 2011, we launched new national, voluntary food and drink guidelines for early years care settings in England. We're training professionals to help nurseries, children's centres, childminders and daycare settings to use them, and to run cooking courses with families.
• More than 400,000 children entitled to free school meals are not having them. We work with schools and local authorities to highlight the obstacles that prevent access to free school meals, such as lack of awareness, poor dining environments and management, and perceived stigma.
What you can do: 

-Point any early years settings you work with to our Eat Better, Start Better recipes and guidelines. Could they sign up to our voluntary code of practice?
Promote school meals to parents - many still hold on to bad memories of school dinners from their own school days!
- Make sure families you're working with know how to register for free school meals if they qualify
- Talk to Let's Get Cooking about training to run healthy cooking programmes with families
- Follow @childfoodtrust and the Trust on Facebook for links to resources, training and recipes, 'like' our Take Two campaign on Facebook or register for our newsletter

Click here to get your place to see Jo speak at JFHC Nutrition Day on 24 October.