St George’s child nutrition expert Dr Anthony Williams is heading a new government scheme to improve the nutrition of toddlers in England. Dr Williams has been announced as the chair of an advisory panel that will review food standards in nurseries.

The panel will investigate the current provision of food and drink to children in childcare, and make recommendations to ensure they are getting nutritious, balanced diets. The announcement of the new review coincides with findings published by the School Food Trust raising concerns about the quality of food served by nurseries. The trust has warned that much of the food is high in fat, sugar and salt, and lacking in nutrients. It also said pre-school children could be eating adult portions and additives usually banned from food aimed at their age group.

Dr Williams, a reader in child nutrition and consultant paediatrics at St George’s, will be joined on the panel by 12 nutritionists and child welfare experts. The panel will investigate the possibility of strengthening – or even making mandatory – food standards in early years settings, to bring them closer to school food standards. It will report to government in August in advance of the Early Years Foundation Stage review, a wider project looking at early learning and care for children up to five years old.

One in five children are obese when they begin primary school, and the government has pledged to tackle the problem. So, in January, the Department for Children, Schools and Families commissioned the School Food Trust to set up the Advisory Panel on Food and Nutrition in Early Years. The School Food Trust has reported that England lags behind Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in publishing early years food guidance.

Children’s Minister Dawn Primarolo said: “Parents and nurseries are already doing a fantastic job encouraging children to eat more healthily, but we want to make sure that standards of nursery food are good everywhere. I look forward to hearing the recommendations of the new advisory panel on what more can be done give young children the best possible food. In the interim, updated guidance for nursery staff is now available online with advice and support on providing nutritious food.”