Serving healthy food at your daycare is a key component of an overall successful child care program. Nutritious food acts as a fuel for the developing minds and bodies of young children. Working to establish good eating habits at an early age is another important factor, as the food you serve at your child care facility will influence children’s eating habits into adulthood and how will think about food well into the future.
Taking time to design a balanced daycare menu that addresses the needs of the children in your care is important. As a daycare provider, you are in a unique position which allows you to educate children about nutrition, help them to make the right choices when it comes to food, and offer them an opportunity to discover a wide variety of new foods. The following are a number of key points to keep in mind as you begin to plan your daycare menu.
1. Dietary Needs
Special dietary considerations and allergies should always be taken into account when putting together your initial daycare menu ideas. It’s typically a good idea to adopt a “nut-free” policy when it comes to both your menu and your daycare center as a whole. Offer substitutes in your meal plan for those children who require them, and encourage parents to pack appropriate substitutes if they prefer.
2. Portion Size & Frequency of Meals
Depending on local regulations, the number of meals and snacks you provide children throughout the day may vary, according to how many hours they are in your care. Remember to adjust portion sizes accordingly for older children.
Food must be prepared safely at all times. Additionally, you should consider choking hazards in all your daycare menu ideas. Avoid serving foods like popcorn, raisins, marshmallows and hard candy. Cut grapes, baby carrots, hot dogs and other similar foods into small, bite sized pieces. Watch children closely as they eat to make sure they are not eating too quickly and avoid choking hazards before they happen.
4. Government Requirements
In many cases, your daycare menu is required to adhere to regulations and policies established to ensure children in daycare facilities are receiving adequate nutrition. Keep in mind the requirements for your area, and choose healthier options for the proteins, grains, vegetables and dairy products that must be included in each meal.
Incorporate foods that have a variety of textures, shapes and colors into your meal plan. For example, chop, cube, grate or mash vegetables to encourage children to try a new food. Create a 3 or 4 week rotation of daycare menu ideas to avoid repetition, introducing at least one new food each week.
By striking a good balance between nutritious foods and the dietary needs of the children in your care, you can design a daycare menu that is delicious, creative and fun. Remember, it’s easy to share menus and keep parents in the loop about what their child eats while at daycare with HiMama. Our child care app can help with meal and snack updates at your center.
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