CHESTER’S largest private childcare provider has defended its decision to introduce an entirely vegan menu across both its nurseries from January.

Jigsaw, which has 260 children on the books at its Curzon House and Ash Tree Farm sites, had come under fire from some parents who say they were not consulted about the switch to plant-based meals.

One mother contacted the Standard to say she had spoken to 11 or 12 equally disgruntled mums and dads about the “drastic” change.

“It’s just bonkers,” said the woman, who has a three-year-old daughter at Jigsaw Curzon House on Wrexham Road.

“Just to enforce it on us without any say isn’t right - they shouldn’t be making these decisions on my behalf. If my daughter wants to be a vegan when she’s older then that’s fine but I’ll have that conversation with her myself.”

However, Claire Taylor, the nurseries’ founder, said the “significant” decision had been made with the children and the planet’s future in mind and it was not their intention to impose lifestyle choices on families.

She added: “We appreciate that this is a decision that comes with a business risk associated, however we feel passionately that a sustainable path is the one we wish to follow for the benefit of our children’s future.”

The mum, who wished to remain anonymous, sent this newspaper a document she had received from the nursery that outlines the type of meals that will be included on the new vegan menu.

It includes 25 dishes based on different cuisines from around the world, such as:

  • Hungarian Goulash: Chickpeas, butterbeans, potatoes and peppers in a rich paprika and tomato stew served with green beans, followed by plant-based yoghurt and honey sprinkled with flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and goji berries.
  • Aloo Matar Curry: Potato and pea curry in a spiced tomato-based curry sauce, followed by coconut rice pudding and mango puree.
  • Shepherdless Pie: Lentils, mushrooms and mixed seasonal vegetable Shepherd’s Pie, followed by bananas and custard served with a mixed seed crumb.
  • Teriyaki Vegetables and Sesame Noodles: Mixed vegetables stir-fried in in a teriyaki sauce served with egg-free noodles topped with toasted sesame seeds, followed by fruit cocktail served with plant-based jelly and coconut whipping cream.

The document also states that breakfast cereal will be served with either soy or oat milk, “chosen as they contain the same fortified nutrients as are found in dairy-based milks”.

The mother added: “There’s obviously no cheese, which my daughter loves, and no meat or the goodness from fish. It’s such a huge, drastic change and I’m not happy about it.”

Childcare at the nursery costs between £235 and £240 per week, or £48 to £49 a day, including meals and snacks.

In her response to us, Mrs Taylor outlined in detail the reasons behind the decision to switch to a 100 per cent vegan menu.

She said the company had been working closely with an experienced and fully-qualified nutritionist to create a “highly nutritious, varied and sustainable menu which meets all of the relevant guidelines for early years nutrition and diet for children under the age of five.”

Mrs Taylor added: “The change is far less drastic than it sounds. Our current menu is 40 per cent vegetarian and all the dishes on our new menu are existing dishes which have been adapted to make them plant-based.

“This means our children are fully familiar with the tastes, textures and flavours we are going to be feeding them which should ensure the transition is a smooth one.”

She cited the “overwhelming” evidence published over the past few years highlighting the impact of animal farming on the planet.

With 260 children and 70 staff the two nurseries serve up to 1,300 lunches and 2,600 light snacks every week meaning they have a significant food footprint to consider.

Mrs Taylor said an informal consultation process was carried out over several months which produced a very split response to the vegan menu plans.

Accepting they may lose some business, they chose to forge ahead with the plans for the sake of the planet and the children’s future, she said.

“We fully acknowledge and appreciate the response we’ve had from a group of our parents,” Mrs Taylor said. “This is a change which impacts their child and they have every right to voice their concerns and seek reassurances.

“It is important to highlight that we have also had a significant amount of support and positive feedback from others across the two settings who are fully supportive of the imminent changes.”

She added: “Throughout these discussions we have been keen to stress that our appetite has not been to remove choice, has not been to enforce lifestyle choices nor has it been to put the children’s nutritional requirements at risk.

“Our sole focus has been on making a significant and impactful change for the good of our children’s environmental futures whilst ring fencing this with robust nutritional planning which meets all the recommended early years guidelines.”