10 Tips for Planning a Healthy Child Care Center Menu

Nutrient-rich meals and snacks are a key part of optimal growth and development in young children. Little ones require the energy provided by healthy food choices to prepare them for the day’s learning opportunities.

As a preschool educator, you can help children learn how to make nutritious food choices, discover new tastes and develop healthy eating habits by planning interesting meals and snacks.

Healthy center menu requirements will vary from region to region, but the following are some general tips you can follow to help plan a nutritious menu for your child care center:

    1. Consider health and safety. Healthy eating starts with cleanliness. Ensure all staff wash their hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing food. Wash and scrub fruit and veggies before preparation, and avoid cross contamination of kitchen surfaces.
    2. Cook together. Invite your preschoolers to watch you prepare foods for meals and snacks, or even help in simple cooking duties if possible. Involve children in choosing fruits or veggies from the pantry and fridge.
    3. Serve varying textures. You can make meals more appealing to preschoolers by offering them foods with a range of colors, flavors, and textures. For example foods can be soft (bread), crunchy (celery), or smooth (yogurt).
    4. Keep portions small. Preschoolers require small portions! In general, around one tablespoon of each food for every year of a child’s age is a good portion size rule of thumb. Small portion sizes are also best when trying to introduce new foods and flavors.
    5. Serve and repeat. Children won’t always like a newly introduced food. Continue to serve a particular food, even if it is not accepted the first time around. Try offering it prepared in different ways, or alongside other familiar foods.
    6. Choose healthy preparation techniques. Use healthy cooking methods like grilling, baking, broiling, poaching and steaming rather than frying when preparing vegetables and meats.
    7. Hydrate! Water should be offered as a healthy beverage option at all meals, and should be available freely throughout the day.
    8. Choose whole grains. Make at least half of the grains you serve whole grain. Serve whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain pitas, tortillas, etc.
    9. Serve lean proteins. Choose lean meat, poultry and fish in addition to high-protein meat alternatives like beans, lentils and peas. Be careful when choosing nuts as some children are highly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.
    10. Vary veggies. Incorporate a wide range of colorful veggies in your menu. Serve dark green veggies like spinach and broccoli, yellow or orange veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers, starchy veggies like corn and potatoes, as well as other vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and zucchini.

For more resources to help you in planning your healthy center menu, check out our menu templates.

Do you have any tips for healthy meal planning in your center? Join the conversation at @HiMamaSocial and make sure to sign up for updates from our HiMama Blog for updates on similar content in the future!

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Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.