South Gloucestershire Council Sure Start project: Fun with food

The project context

The project was set up in 2009 to tackle the rising trend in childhood obesity seen in Reception Year children in South Gloucestershire. The project used data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for the school year 2007/08. This showed that 19.6 per cent of children in Reception Year (four to five-year-olds) in South Gloucestershire were classed as either overweight (12.6 per cent) or very overweight (seven per cent).

By Year 6 (10 to 11-year-olds), 27.5 per cent of children were classed as either overweight (13.3 percent) or very overweight (14.2 percent). In 2008/09, the NCMP for South Gloucestershire showed that 21.9 per cent of children in Reception Year were classed as either overweight (13.1 per cent) or very overweight (8.8 per cent).

Overview of the project

The ‘Fun with food' Sure Start Children's Centre project in South Gloucestershire had two main aims. The first was to upskill Early Years practitioners (EYPs) working in Sure Start children's centres. The second was to improve knowledge about healthy eating, diet and nutrition, change attitudes and dietary behaviour of parents and or carers and their children who attend the centres.

To achieve the first aim a ‘cook and eat' workshop was delivered to the EYPs working in the Sure Start children's centres. They also received an update on nutrition for the under fives and current guidelines for this age group.

A ‘Fun with food' resource pack containing information about nutrition for under-fives, as well as ideas and support resources for a number of food and cooking-based activity sessions was developed and a training session to go through the pack was held with the EYPs.

To achieve the second aim the ‘stay and play' sessions at the Sure Start centres are being used to deliver a series of ‘fun with food' sessions for parents and or carers and their children to improve knowledge about healthy eating and positively change attitudes and dietary behaviour.
Stay and play sessions aim to support parents and or carers with their child's physical, social and emotional development by providing a range of fun and exciting activities. The EYPs who have received training through the nutrition update, and ‘cook and eat' workshop, are delivering the ‘Fun with food' sessions.

The theory of change (what should happen)

It is widely believed that healthy eating behaviour needs to be established at an early age to help combat the rising levels of childhood obesity. By increasing the confidence, knowledge and skills of parents and or carers and involving children in food based activities it is hoped that this will lead to positive and sustainable dietary behaviour change.

What will success look like?


an increase in the number of EYPs working in Surestart children's centres that have the skills, knowledge and confidence to provide fun, interactive and informal healthy eating and or cooking sessions in their setting.


of parents and children who take part in the sessions about initiatives such as the five-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetables or the ‘Eatwell plate'.


a positive change in attitudes towards healthy eating, such as increasing the number of families that believe it is important to eat a healthy diet or sit down to have a meal together.


to change dietary behaviour of families participating in the healthy eating sessions, for example, by increasing the number of families that cook meals from scratch, provide healthy snacks for their children, eat breakfast every day and eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Measuring the difference

The project used a combination of pre- and post-course assessment, questionnaires and feedback to assess the impact of various elements of the project.
EYPs were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their knowledge of early years nutrition before and after their nutrition training. This was to measure improvements in their awareness and understanding.

Again, the EYPs were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing different aspects. These included their level of confidence in running food and cooking-based sessions, their knowledge of completing risk assessments, and recipes they typically use in their sessions before and after they attended the cook and eat workshop.

EYPs completed a questionnaire to assess their initial thoughts about the ‘Fun with food' resource packs used in training and how they would use them in workshops.

Some of the centres that have run ‘Fun with food' sessions have collected feedback, including photos, displays and invited parents and carers to write their thoughts on post-it notes which were pinned on flip chart paper.

Further evaluation of the ‘Fun with food' sessions and assessments of the extent to which EYPs have retained their nutritional knowledge is planned. This will be used to determine whether new staff needs nutrition training and or a ‘Cook and eat' workshop.

The challenges

A service review and restructuring of the Sure Start Children's Centres during the project meant that some staff either left or their responsibilities changed. This delayed certain aspects of the project such as the delivery of the food and cooking-based sessions in the centres as it was a time of uncertainty.

Results - Nutrition training

The EYPs reported a considerable increase in knowledge and awareness of some aspects of nutrition such as:

  • the UK healthy eating model the ‘Eatwell plate'
  • correct knowledge of the maximum amount of salt children aged two to four years should have each day
  • when it is suitable to start giving children under the age of five semi-skimmed milk.

Results - Cook and eat workshop

The questionnaire results showed the ‘cook and eat' workshop improved EYPs' level of confidence in running food and cooking based sessions, improved their knowledge of completing risk assessments and also gave them new ideas of recipes and activities to run in their ‘stay and play' sessions. It also highlighted why some centres didn't do more cooking, as some didn't have the necessary equipment in large enough quantities.

Preparing food for children






The fun with food resource pack

All the staff had a positive impression of the toolkit and provided useful comments and suggestions. Feedback from staff also showed that they would use all of the session ideas and support resources that were provided in the resource pack. However, they would like more ideas aimed at children under the age of two.

Fun with food sessions

Comments and feedback from families and carers confirmed they had started to take a positive interest in nutrition and had enjoyed and learned from the sessions.

Reporting the findings

Evaluation findings have been reported to Service Managers in the Health, Safety and Food Team and the Children and Young People Team at South Gloucestershire Council. They have also been reported to the South West Regional Innovation and Excellence Partnership (SWRIEP) who provided funding for the project.

The project has also been written up and posted on the Food Vision website. This helps share knowledge, learning and good practice in food and nutrition-related projects around England.

Delicious and nutritious - on the Food Vision website

Personal learning


The resource pack took longer than anticipated as the correct marketing and branding format had to be agreed and signed off by the Marketing team before printing could start. It also took longer than anticipated to equip centres with cooking equipment.

Benefits of evaluation

Project evaluation and impact is now given much more attention. This is especially true in the current economic climate where we need to justify what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Evaluation is planned and thought about at the outset of a project rather than at the end. Learning is taken away and used to help tailor future projects and events. There has also been team training to encourage all team members to think about and plan evaluation in any project they are involved in.