daycare food menu plan ideas

How to Plan a Daycare Food Menu (With Weekly Sample)

To feed or not to feed? Daycare operators who wish to provide a childcare menu plan have many things to be aware of when deciding on the types and varieties of foods to serve to children.

The Most Important Meals of the Day

When it comes to the quality of the food that today’s children have the most access to, experts say it is often less than optimal. Foods today can be lacking in nutritional density and often contains too much sugar and trans-fats. In many cases, families are experiencing serious food insecurity issues and childcare may be the only place a child can receive healthy and nutritious food. For this reason, extra care should be taken when thinking about the value of all of the foods being served. What a child eats at daycare could be their most important meal.

Food Safety & Regulations

Choosing the right meals and ingredients takes some time and thought.  Depending on the area and whether or not the childcare kitchen will require a permit may dictate where ingredients can be purchased. It should be noted that there may be limitations on serving certain types of foods such as home canning or items purchased at a farmer’s market. Many local grocery stores deliver these days and this is a great option because the food is prepared in an approved environment, is of high quality, and comes to the facility in a refrigerated truck so the safety of the food is guaranteed.  

When thinking about offering a hot meal program, consideration for food safety is paramount because of foodborne illness.  Foodborne illness is caused by eating food that has been contaminated by germs, parasites, virus, mould or bacteria and occurs when foods are not prepared or stored properly.  If a permit is required for the kitchen it is likely that the staff in charge of food preparation and storage will be required to have some extra training such as a Food Safe course.

Childcare operators must determine if their kitchen space can support the proposed meal service. Think about the servery itself: Is it easily accessible? Are there adequate food storage areas? What about food preparation areas? Who will purchase, prepare and serve the food? 

Establishing a Budget

Budgeting is also a consideration when designing a daycare menu plan.  Who will pay for the groceries and staff that will be required to facilitate a successful meal program? Some facilities charge an extra fee to families, many facilities build it into the regular monthly costs. In some circumstances there may be grants available to support meal programs in childcare facilities; please check with local funding programs or resource centres to find out what is available.

Need help creating your budget? Use our Childcare Budget Template!

Planning a Healthy Childcare Menu

As far as nutritional content goes, a childcare menu should emphasize whole foods that are higher in iron, zinc, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C and healthier fats. Healthy fats should not be restricted when coming up with childcare food menu ideas as children do require a higher fat diet than adults.  

Healthy Foods to Include

Consider including nutrient dense foods such as:

Food GroupExamples
ProteinSeafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
FruitFresh, canned, frozen or dried fruits. 
VegetablesFresh, canned, frozen or dried vegetables. Provide a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas.
GrainsWhole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, or brown or wild rice. Limit refined grains such as white bread, pasta and rice.
DairyFat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.
Healthy FatsVegetable and nut oils, olives, nuts, avocados and seafood. 

Unhealthy Foods to Avoid

Limit these items:

Food TypeExamples
SugarAdded sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey.
Saturated and trans fatsAnimal fat from red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. 
SodiumCheck product labels to ensure they are low in sodium.

Keeping It Interesting

How children eat when they are small can predict the types of foods they will choose as they grow older so for this reason it is important to include a variety of healthy foods to promote healthy eating patterns. Serving a variety of choices such as yogurt, sliced fruit with ricotta cheese, fruit smoothies and sliced fresh vegetables can help get a head start on promoting those early eating habits.  

Young children love to touch, smell, taste and examine different things and by providing a variety of bite sized finger foods for snacking, children can begin to acquaint themselves with a variety of options. For snack time, offer avocado on toast triangles, edamame beans, apple slices with sunflower butter or muffin cups full of berries. Try serving banana spinach muffins and see how easy it can be to add nutrition into child sized snacks.  

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. A menu should be considered that is exciting and offers a variety of foods from different ethnic backgrounds. 

Children’s daycare menus should also provide options. When designing a menu, think about vegetarian/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. Please ensure a menu plan includes access to appropriate food options for those children that may not fit into the mainstream of the group. 

Weekly Childcare Menu Sample

Here’s a sample weekly schedule to help get you started!

BreakfastHigh fibre cereal/ fresh fruit/ milkTofu scrambled eggs/ whole wheat toast/ milk Baked vegetable frittata/ milkHot cereal/ canned fruit/ toasted ground almond sprinkle/ milk
Sausage/ whole wheat toast/ frozen fruit/ milk
SnackSmoothie/ waterWhole grain crackers/ cheese/ fruit slices/ water
Bean dip pita chips/ water
Yogurt/ fruit/ waterApple crisp/ yogurt/ water
LunchSalmon cakes/ broccoli salad/ milk Chicken noodle soup/ whole wheat bagel/ vegetable sticks/ cucumber and dill dipping sauce/ milkChili in a baked potato/ frozen corn/ milkStir-fry chicken or tofu chow mein/ brown rice/ milkLentil soup/ roti/ milk
SnackMacaroni salad/ frozen fruit/ water
Pineapple tofu smoothie/ waterApple cheddar quesadillas/ waterGranola/ fresh fruit/ waterGrilled cheese sandwich/ water

Kristen Hunt

Kristen Hunt is a Licensed Early Childhood Educator and Professional who has worked in a variety of different environments during her 30-year career. A life-long learner, Kristen has an educational background in ECE, Montessori, Human Resources, Community Care Licensing, Violence Prevention, Harm Reduction, Reconciliation, and is also a registered Kindermusik and Yoga Instructor.