Nutritional Standards for Children. What They Are And How Software Can Help Achieve The Correct Intake.

We’ve recently covered innovating children’s restaurant menus, catering for children in the cost sector, and, latterly, meeting nutrition challenges in schools. However, we thought it was time to return to the big picture of children’s nutrition, and go back to basics for any of our customers who need to get to grips with the fundamentals of child nutrition and the part their business should play in providing it.

What nutrition do children actually need and are they getting it?

Common sense says that children need a balanced and varied diet. But what does this boil down to in the nutritional profile of the food you’re going to provide them with’ Where does your business start’ By learning the basics!

‘Dietary reference values’ are the guiding principle in detailing children’s actual energy and nutrient requirements. We’ve taken some of the British Nutrition Foundation’s useful information and compiled it into this at-a- glance reference table. We look to the various National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (for years 1-4 combined, rolling programme 2008/09 to 2011/12, and years 5-6 combined rolling programme 2012/13 to 2013/14) to give an accurate picture of what children eat in reality. The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) can help to understand how that is affecting children in reception year (age 4-5) and year 5 (age 10-11).

Pre-school children School children (5-12) Teenagers
Energy and nutrient intake Per day:

  • Nutrient-dense foods, not always low fat (unless child is obese)
  • 5 starchy foods
  • 5 fruit/veg
  • 3 dairy foods
  • 2 protein foods
  • No more than 2g salt for ages 1-3
  • No more than 3g salt for ages 4-6
Follow the principles of the Eatwell Guide.See precise requirements for nutrient intakes here.

  • No more than 5g salt for ages 7-10
  • No more than 6g salt for ages 11 and over
Follow the principles of the Eatwell Guide.See precise requirements for nutrient intakes here.

  • Boys aged 11-14: increased requirement for all vitamins and minerals, plus calcium for rapid skeletal development
  • Girls aged 11-14: increased requirement for minerals, and much higher iron requirements
  • Protein requirements increase to 50%
What are they actually getting?
  • Nutrient intake adequate
  • Energy intakes found to be above recommended intakes
  • Intakes of ‘added’ or ‘free’ (non-milk extrinsic) sugars only slightly above recommendation
  • 93% of children ok for iron intakes
  • 32% of children ok for vitamin D intake
  • Quantities of food consumed are increasing
  • Vitamin and mineral intakes in line with recommendation, apart from vitamin A
  • Exceeding intakes in non-milk extrinsic sugars, saturated fatty acids, and salt
  • Oily fish intakes are low
  • 10% of children aged 5 eat 5 fruit/veg a day
  • 20% of children aged 12 eat 5 fruit/veg a day
  • Not enough dietary fibre – around 15g of the recommended 25-30g
  • Exceeding intakes for energy from non-milk extrinsic sugars, saturated fatty acids, and salt
  • Total fat intakes slightly below recommended percentage of food energy
  • Low intakes of vitamin A, zinc and iodine
  • Girls have low intake of folates
  • 8% of 11-18 year olds eat 5 fruit/veg a day, average consumption is 2.8 portions a day
How is that affecting them?
  • We can look at the result once these children start school: the number of obese children in reception year has risen to 9.6% in the school year 2016-17 – a rise for the second year in a row, from 9.3% the previous year.
  • 31% of children showed signs of obvious tooth decay by age 5.
  • The number of obese children in year six has remained stable at 20% in the school year 2016-17.
  • Around 55% of children age 7-10 have evidence of dental caries.
  • Iron deficiencies can lead to tiredness – especially problematic with exam stresses during adolescence.
  • High salt levels can lead to high blood pressure, risking heart disease in later life.
  • In 2013, 34% of boys and 39% of girls aged 13-15 were overweight or obese.

The different nutritional standards and guidance across the food service industry

The guidance to catering professionals is many and varied – and, as a result, sometimes confusing. The strictest standards and guidance applies in the cost sector – namely, in schools. There is also some guidance available for children’s catering in other industries within the cost sector but it is not as widely known or publicized, and is not updated as often. Guidance on nutrition in catering within children’s care homes and offenders’ institutes is even more piecemeal.

Here are some key nutritional standards and guidelines for the food service industry in various sectors:

When you have a nutritional standard to adhere to, you’ll need to design your recipes and menus to meet them. That’s where automation is so useful: Saffron software handles imported or user-set nutritional guidelines, can automatically nutritionally analyse food (even whole menu cycles), and can show you when you need to adapt ingredients to meet the nutrition benchmark.

What do children’s nutritional standards actually mean for the food service industry?

The answer, of course, is – it depends. It depends on whether you’re in the cost sector or the retail sector.

The cost sector – education, hospitals, care homes, young offenders’ institutes – is already subject to a raft of nutritional limitations, because of its connection to the welfare state and the responsibility that dictates. When children and parents don’t have a choice which food they buy, prepare and serve to their children, and are at the mercy of state provision, the government is at pains to produce the healthiest food it can for those children.

This is why many NHS hospitals already use our Saffron product, alongside Saffron Patient Ordering – to plan recipes and menus that are healthy and nutritious, come in on budget and allow the child to choose a meal that is most appealing to them (so reducing wastage). Also, many schools already use Saffron to plan and design recipes and menus that comply with the school food standards. Many caterers will find it difficult to secure a contract without demonstrating that they can evidence meeting these nutritional guidelines.

For the retail sector, adhering to any nutritional standards doesn’t currently mean a great deal, but it will become integral to surviving in the industry – as parents and children become more health conscious and vote with their feet. As we explore in Innovating children’s restaurant menus – how can software help?, the food landscape is changing as consumers wake up to health (and their responsibility to the planet). To ignore that sea change is to risk becoming a dinosaur in the industry, and suffering the same extinction. Retail businesses should be taking far more notice of children’s nutritional guidance than they currently do.

There are no official nutritional standards provided for catering and food business, but Public Health England (PHE) is working with local authorities and town planners to impact childhood obesity via the Sugar Reduction programme. This will soon start to affect the retail sector: as food businesses offering very unhealthy food will start to be turned down for planning consent. What can you do’ Start making healthier food! You can hire a dietician or nutritional analyst, or you can use Saffron software. Find out how Saffron can help retail businesses to do this by reading these:

What is the food service industry’s responsibility and how can software help meet it?

At the moment, the cost sector is already committed to its responsibility for children’s nutrition, financed as it is by the public purse. We explore this in our article, What are the nutritional problems facing caterers in settings for children, and how can software help overcome them’ For more detailed information on how software helps schools fulfil their responsibilities and stick to the School Food Standards, read Meeting Nutritional Standards in Schools.

However, the retail sector has far to go. Presently, it has very little responsibility for improving children’s nutrition – but it should have. As we explore in Innovating children’s restaurant menus – how can software help’ there is nothing to stop retail food businesses from providing the unhealthiest food to children. Also mentioned in that article, however, is how parents are responding positively to businesses that provide them not only with healthy children’s food, but with reliable nutritional and allergen information to aid their decision-making. This is where Saffron’s nutritional analysis is invaluable. It also helps businesses with nutritional labeling for menus, which is going to become ever more important in this age of information.

For retail food business, responsibility towards healthiness is not yet present, but it is coming. With PHE’s wide-ranging programme to engage local authorities and planners who will control the very fundamentals of which food businesses can open where, it is in your business’s interest to start taking notice of nutritional standards for children, and how you can produce better food cost-effectively.

What next?

If you’re a cost-sector provider targeting children’s settings, you might be struggling with evidencing compliance with standards, or matching your competitors’ cost-efficiency. They’re probably already using Saffron.

If you’re in the retail sector, you’re going to need to move fast to avoid being left behind in the marketplace for healthy kids’ food.

Saffron software can help a huge range of food businesses to cater successfully to children on many levels: from menu and recipe planning and nutritional analysis to costing, and much more besides. To see how it can help you, call us on 0114 281 6060, email us at, or fill out our contact form.

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