An 80-page booklet includes advice on what food young children should eat, recipes and help for fussy eaters – and even includes actual-size diagrams of the perfect plate.
The information, from the Government's School Food Trust, follows a report which said that some young children were being given food better suited to adults.
But the move has received a mixed reception, with some parents saying it is patronising and an example of the nanny state, while others hail it as much needed. The Eat Better, Start Better guide is for people who look after pre-school children, such as nursery workers and carers.
It includes advice on how to cater for youngsters of different religions, but other information seems to be just common sense, such as the fact that sugar rots teeth and fruit is full of vitamins.
It even tells nursery workers, who have already had two years' training in looking after children, what the definition of meat is and how best to define a week (Monday to Friday).
The need for clearer guidance was flagged up two years ago by an independent panel of experts on food and nutrition in the early years because more than a fifth of children are overweight or obese when they start school.
The School Food Trust said many childcare providers were doing an excellent job, but some had not taken on board the particular nutrition needs of very young children.
The result was that some children were being given too much salt and sugar and too little energy in the form of carbohydrates and fat.
Sometimes their diets lacked fruit and vegetables, and dietary fibre. They were often also short of essential minerals like iron and zinc.
The Trust, supported by nursery industry bodies, has developed a series of menu plans to help staff provide a healthy balanced diet.
There are no sugar-coated breakfast cereals on the list, rather porridge with raisins, Weetabix with yoghurt and dried apricots, toasted muffins with scrambled egg or rice cakes.
Forget fizzy pop, the list of approved drinks includes diluted apple or orange juice, whole milk or water.
Lunch options include mixed bean and root vegetable stew with apricot and herb couscous; lamb curry with brown rice; fish pie with sweet potato topping; or beef lasagne. While tea options include chicken or tofu risotto, scrambled egg on toast; and herby pilchard pasta.
There are also a number of suggested snacks which rule out chocolate bars and crisps in favour of oatcakes, satsumas, celery and cucumber sticks.
There are detailed instructions on portion sizes, down to the last gram, and photographs of ideal plate and bowl sizes: a plate should be 20cm in diameter; a large bowl, 12cm; and a small bowl 8cm.
The guidelines have been welcomed by childcare providers and many parents.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the code of practice would help them "navigate through the maze of information about what food and drink is nutritionally appropriate for young children".
And the National Day Nurseries Association said it would be working with its member nurseries to implement the guidelines, which will be piloted across five local authorities, with more joining the scheme later in 2012.
Many parents also think the guidelines are a positive step, not only to combat child obesity, but to support mums and dads who often struggle with picky eaters.
One told the Daily Mail: "I find this very patronising but agree that some parents shove loads on their children's plates and then tell them off if they don't eat it, much better to give a small portion and then seconds if they are still hungry."
A mum of a two-year-old said: "I have no family members or other mums to ask for advice so I have no idea about correct portion sizes.
"I found advice on websites and in booklets to be contradictory, so I made the mistake of finding a 'typical toddler's menu' and sticking to it.
"The result is that my toddler is now overweight. It is hard work to correct this but I'm sticking to my guns. I will be using this useful information from now on."
But other parents think the guidance is a waste of time – because toddlers will only eat what they want.
This is all very well if you can get your fussy toddler to eat any of this," said a frustrated mum.
"You could end up spending a fortune on heaps of fruit, veg, pulses and meat only for it to be wasted when your little one throws it on the floor or spits it out in disgust."
And another said: "Sadly the people who need this information won't read it."
More on Parentdish: Are we overfeeding our children?
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