Everybody knows most children could be eating better: some of the easiest (and tastiest) food you can get makes up for what it lacks in nutritional density with too much sugar and trans-fats. Fortunately, childcare presents an opportunity to ensure that a child consistently receives healthy and nutritious food. For this reason, extra care should be taken when thinking about the food you’re serving in your childcare center. What a child eats at daycare could easily be their most nutritious meal of the day.
There’s a world of healthy choices out there for meals and snacks, and most children have only experienced a tiny corner of it. Therefore, it is important to include a variety of healthy foods to give children new and familiar options while promoting healthy eating patterns. Serving different kinds of dairy products, grains, fruits, and vegetables can help get a head start on promoting those healthy eating habits and give children the opportunities to try new things.
Healthy and easy children’s snack ideas
- Fruits and vegetables such as apples, watermelon, peppers, carrots, celery, etc.
- Unsalted nuts or seeds (don’t forget to be mindful of any allergies!)
- Low sugar muffins or cookies
- Cheese and crackers
- Yogurt pouches
- Fruit pouches
- Avocado toast triangles
- Edamame beans
Learning through food in the classroom
Young children love to touch, smell, taste, and examine their food and by providing a variety of bite-sized snacks, you can encourage this behavior and foster further learning. Incorporate the meals and snacks into your lesson plans by learning where that food comes from, how it grows, how it’s prepared, ways to describe its texture, taste, smell, etc.
Check out these food activities for the classroom for more inspiration!
Healthy and easy children’s meals in the classroom
- Soups – take all of the vegetables in your fridge, roast them up and puree them into a delicious and nutritious dinner!
- Hearty salad – ditch the preservatives and hidden ingredients in store-bought salad dressings and get the ingredients to make your own (olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon, garlic, and tahini work well)!
- Pasta with a twist – get rid of white noodles and replace them with a healthier alternative such as whole grain pasta or brown rice noodles (your kids won’t even notice!)
- Stir fry – take some chicken and veggies and fry them up on rice!
Looking for recipe inspiration? Check out https://www.yummytoddlerfood.com/ for tons of great recipes!
Designing your childcare center menu
Besides choosing a variety of foods to make an optimized nutritional menu, there can be many other considerations when making a daycare menu plan. Choose a menu that considers children’s food preferences as well as their age and development. Daycare centers will also have mandatory requirements for their menus, such as meeting certain state or federal health guidelines. A menu should offer a variety of foods from different ethnic backgrounds.
Children’s daycare menus should also provide dietary options. When designing a menu, think about vegetarian and vegan options and take into consideration common issues such as lactose or gluten intolerance, allergens like peanuts, and also family preferences. Many children do not eat certain foods due to a family preference, or for cultural or personal reasons. Be sure your menu plan includes access to appropriate food options for those children that may not fit into the mainstream.
Daily menus are used by preschools or childcare centers to keep track of what is being prepared for lunch, snacks, and other meals and to share those choices with parents. Menu plans can be as detailed or succinct as you like. Some centers may only provide snacks, while others will detail the ingredient list for all lunches and snacks. You can plan out your daycare menu schedule by day or week using these free templates!