Plants to fuel our future generations?

Caring for the environment and our natural world is a fundamental part of the Jigsaw ethos and a key learning objective for the children we care for. Over the years we have achieved many things to help make a positive environmental impact and in turn help the children understand and care for the world in which we live.

The twin environmental crises of climate change and the extinction of species are no longer looming future threats: they are upon us now. It cannot be ignored that the food that we eat affects more than just our own personal health. It is also a major contributor to our impact on the natural world. Global food production accounts for roughly 25% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 70% of freshwater extraction and is the leading driver of natural habitat loss around the world. Putting this into a more local context, the WWF holds the food economy directly responsible for 17% of the UK’s total GHG emissions.

There is clearly tremendous public demand for action, but what can we – as individuals, families, and businesses – practically do to make a real difference? One simple but powerful answer is illustrated by the changes Jigsaw Day Nurseries has made to its menu. Protein that comes from animals carries a disproportionately high environmental footprint. This means that when the Jigsaw team removed meat and dairy and replaced them with nutritionally balanced plant-based alternatives they reduced the climate footprint of their meals by over half. The land area used to grow the ingredients – a key determinant of their impact on nature – fell almost as much. And the water footprint fell by one-third. Stabilising our climate and leaving enough room for the millions of other species that live on Earth requires each of us to do what we can, right now.


1. What did the change achieve?

Since switching to a plant-based menu in January 2020, Jigsaw Nurseries has managed to dramatically reduce its environmental impact.

  • 56% reduction in Carbon Footprint (equivalent to 160 return flights to Malaga)
  • 47% reduction in land use (equivalent to 7 football pitches)
  • 31% reduction in water use (equivalent to 45,000 baths each year)

2. What did the process look like?

End to end this was a 12-month process which saw us engaging with a fully qualified dietitian with paediatric experience whilst continually referencing the relevant regulation and guidelines for our sector to ensure all the requirements were being met. As much as we wanted to make this move for environmental purposes the well-being of our children is paramount so we had to have full confidence that everything was in place behind the scenes before moving forward.

Here are some good guidelines for early years food:

3. How was it received by the parents?

Following the announcement there were naturally questions and concerns that needed to be addressed for our parents. Although there is a growing awareness of plant-based diets in society for many it is quite often just something they read or hear about in the news. The main concerns focused around the nutritional impact on their children. Over the course of the ensuing weeks, we set about sharing the detailed work we had carried out in partnership with the qualified dietitian and referencing the relevant food guidelines to offer the re-assurances that they required.

Download an example menu.

4. Do the children like the food?

The migration went seamlessly, and the new menu has been a huge success. We purposely chose dishes that the children were familiar with so that they had familiarity with the tastes and flavours. The children overwhelmingly enjoy the food we offer them and, in the process, we are establishing some incredibly positive habits relating to food that they will take with them once they leave us to move onto the next stage of their journey. 1 in 10 children in the UK who leave Pre School to go to Primary school are classed as obese. That number rises to 1 in 5 children when moving from Primary to High School. Not only is our plant-based menu far better for the environment is also works towards ensuring we give the children in our care a healthy start to their young lives.

5. Is it expensive?

It is a misconception that eating plant based is expensive. Just like any food choices you can make them as expensive or as cheap as you chose. If you choose to purchase high end goods, you are likely to pay more however most of the mainstream supermarkets offer equivalent products far cheaper making this an option for everyone. From our experiences planning and researching the best sources for your ingredients makes life far easier and allows you to work within whatever budget you may have.

6. Where can you get ideas for dishes from?

We are fortunate that the plant-based world is booming right now. From TV chefs releasing cookbooks to the explosion on social media you do not need to work too hard to find new ideas for dishes and information relating to plant based food. The world’s largest brands and food manufacturers are acknowledging that the demand for sustainable food is here to stay which means that the number of products available on the shelf is quite literally growing by the week. We would actively encourage you to be brave and give things a go, you will likely get a very pleasant surprise that just so happens to be great for our environment and hopefully your health too!!

Here are three examples of easy vegan recipes to get you started:

7. What small things could I do if I did not want to move to a fully plant-based diet?

We appreciate that moving to a fully plant-based diet will not be for everyone however there are a lot of small changes you could introduce to your food world which over time would start to make a meaningful impact on the environment.

  • Plant based milk alternatives are becoming hugely popular in many countries and with most brands including nutrition fortification (for elements such as Calcium, Vitamin D, B12, B2) they are a nutritionally sound alternative to traditional dairy options but with a far lower impact environmentally.
  • Another growing trend is people opting for meat / fish free days through the week. Reducing meat / fish and replacing them with a well-planned plant-based alternative on a regular frequency has the ability over time to make a very real difference to our environment. Through our work with Foodsteps (Environmental impact & Sustainable Solutions business) we learned that each day of change was equivalent to an 11% reduction of our carbon footprint per week.
  • As previously mentioned, there is also a rapidly increasing array of plant-based alternatives and options available at most local supermarkets. In most instances the taste and eating experience is remarkably similar therefore you can have an incredibly positive impact on our environment without any great sacrifice for the things you love. The more the demand for these products grows the more options the food industry will make available to us.

Jigsaw Allotment:

To compliment our migration to a Plant-Based menu and to enhance our children’s educational experience we expanded our growing capabilities by securing significant plot space at our local allotment.

Not only does this allow us to grow organic seasonal fruit and vegetables for our nursery kitchens throughout the growing seasons – it provides us with a wonderful opportunity to engage our children in both the health and environmental benefits of growing your own produce.

Every single bit of produce grown at the allotments has been planted, nurtured, and harvested by children from the nurseries and their buy-in in terms of engaging with the food at mealtimes has grown exponentially with the increased ownership and involvement they have in the entire growing process.

What can I do at home to get started?

Owning or having access to an allotment plot or simply growing in your house / garden is a wonderful way of engaging with nature whilst lessening the demands made on our planet from an energy intensive food production perspective.

To find out more information or to locate an allotment near you please visit:


Founded in 1999, Jigsaw is a small, family-owned Children’s Day Nursery group based in Chester, UK.

Caring for the environment and our natural world is a fundamental part of the Jigsaw ethos and key learning objective for the children we care for.

Our children are our future so not only do we have a responsibility to take mindful decisions which safeguard their future planet we also have a duty to teach and guide them to ensure we are shaping sustainable citizens who will lead the way in years to come.

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