Menu Planning for Childcare Centres

The importance of menu planning for childcare centres

The need for menu planning for childcare centre providers has never been more crucial. All children attending childcare need to be supplied with a healthy range of snacks and meals.  At Jumpstart childcare we appreciate the importance of effective menu planning to ensure that we give children a head start in healthy nutritious eating habits.

There are many childcare menu considerations to be taken into account by daycare centres and it’s important that all aspects of menu preparation are taken into account and planned for.

It is imperative that menu preparation meets the guidelines as prescribed by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) which covers key areas such as nutrition and hygiene.

Broadly speaking meals provided by childcare centres should meet most of a child’s daily nutritional needs. Therefore it is essential  that a wide range of foods and food groups are made available to meet the developmental needs of all ages. Meal menu items should include fruit, vegetables, chicken, cereal, lean meat and dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese). Sweet foods such as cakes and lollies should not be served on a regular basis from a childcare centre.

It is expected that at a bare minimum long day care facilities provide one main meal and two snack meals – effectively lunch, morning tea and afternoon tea.

When planning menus, the childcare centre should strive to ensure that mealtime is supervised in a relaxed cordial atmosphere. As well as supervising children eating, childcare workers have the opportunity to encourage healthy eating habits and positive attitudes to all the food groups.

Particular care must be taken in catering for any food allergies when preparing recipes for childcare centres.

Benefits to menu planning at childcare

children eating a selection of healthy snacks at childcare with their blond female teacher

There are many benefits associated with menu planning at childcare facilities. Essentially these benefits all relate back to the child’s own well being as careful menu planning will give them access to an enjoyable range of healthy tasty and nutritious food choices. When it comes to childcare, effective menu planning is no doubt one of the main benefits of daycare centres

Breakfast catering ideas

If a childcare centre is providing a breakfast menu option it is important that the breakfast meets the health department guidelines. To that end, it is vital that breakfast options revolve around supplying plenty of bread and cereal grain options and ensuring that there is always at least one wholegrain option available. Other good menu choices to offer children at breakfast include milk, yoghurt, fruit and cheese. 

It is also important that any cereals provided have low sugar content  15 grams of sugar per 100 grams if dried fruit is not included and 25 grams of sugar per 100 grams when dried fruit is included.

Brunch/Lunch catering ideas

When planning a lunch menu for children it is important that variety is provided in the menu. Accordingly, over a two week period, the lunch menu should include 

  • Lean red meat served four times per fortnight
  • Lean poultry or pork twice in the fortnight
  • Fish preferably twice per fortnight
  • Vegetarian meals at least once every two weeks
  • Lean ham or bacon should be included at least once per fortnight

Other forms of processed meat such as sausages, devon, salami, sausage mince and frankfurts should not be included on the menu.The keys to supplying a healthy nutritious and enjoyable lunch menu are variety, quality and lean meat.

Give the child options

a selection of healthy snacks laid out on a table at a childcare centre

Wherever possible when preparing a menu, the child should be given some autonomy in choosing what they eat.  Obviously, budgets dictate exactly how much choice can be given, but even basic fruit and cereal alternatives allow the child to participate in mealtime.

Over the time the menu should be varied and give the child a range of textural and taste options to sample and enjoy

Example recipes for childcare centres

Menus should be planned in accordance with the specific needs of the demographics and cultural requirements of the childcare facility. It is important though to maintain menus and prepare recipes in accordance with the healthy eating advisory service’s menu planning or long day care guidelines. Important factors to take into consideration when planning recipes are that:children should receive at least one serving of poultry, lean meat, fish or alternatives daily.

This serving would equate to 30 grams of lean red meat, 40 grams of cooked poultry, 60 grams of cooked fish, one egg or 85 grams of tofu.

Things to keep in Mind

Eat and repeat

Planning a cycle menu which will incorporate the same menu items over a four week period without offering the same eal two days in a row. This eat and repeat cycle allows you to provide ample variety while allowing preparing staff to become expert in the preparation of the menu that is available.

Portion size

Portions sizes should be age appropriate and provide sufficient nutrition to meet health department guidelines.  The ACECQA provides clear guidelines as to what portion sizes should be according to age group. A Healthy meals for toddler menu will not differ greatly to healthy meals for older children other than in the portion size itself.

Conclusion

Menu planning for childcare centres can be challenging but quite rewarding when you are able to provide nutritious healthy meals that the children love to eat.