How to Plan a Childcare MENU
Do you look at planning your childcare menu and feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to begin? Making a plan for your childcare menu is a big job. I would highly recommend getting on a food program because they will give you guidelines to go by. I don’t whole heartedly agree with all of the USDA rules, but I do know the program can help kids get better nutrition than they otherwise would. Think of providers that just make a package of ramen and that’s all the kids get. They would like it, but it isn’t optimal for children’s health.
Do you get tired of your kids acting out or having trouble napping? Did you know food additives can cause a whole plethora of behavior problems AND health problems like cancer and other illnesses? Do you run out of energy every day before you run out of day? I promise, if you change your diet and the kid’s diet, you will change your life!
Nutrition is important for kids.
Their growing bodies need nutrients to grow strong and healthy and for proper brain development. Kids are with us in care for 2/3 of their meals so what we feed them is so important. You may think, what difference does it make if mom or dad drives through Mikey D’s on the way home from daycare and gets the kids a happy meal every day. That’s when it makes even more difference because the only nutritious food the kids may be getting is in your care.
Think about it. It’s worth the effort to do your best to make super healthy meals for your kids. It’s not the easy way, but it’s the right way. Our kids deserve our very best. I read a book years ago that changed my life, click on the image below to check it out.
When preparing your meals, it’s best to try not to use processed foods. These foods are full of chemicals, preservatives, and extra sugar, salt and fat. They do not promote good health in children or any of us for that matter. You can make some chicken strips for the kids almost as easily as you can throw some frozen chicken blobs on a pan and throw them in the oven. All you have to do is cut up some chicken breast, toss them in flour, salt and pepper and toss them on a pan and throw them in the oven to bake. It’s not that much harder to make things from scratch.
If you do use processed foods, which we all do sometimes, try to give the kids a balance of healthy verses processed. It’s easy to cut up some apples or bananas instead of reaching for a can of peaches that are void of any of their original nutritional value. So if you’re going to serve the kids hot dogs, which we all know they freaking love, give them some quality sides to go with it.
Now where do we start with this daunting task of meal planning?
- Decide how many weeks your cycle menu will be. The minimum on the food program is 2 weeks. You should plan whatever works for you. I do 4 weeks because I do my main staple grocery shopping every 4 weeks when I get my food check. That’s what works best for me.
- Pull up excel if you want a program that will make neat columns for you on the computer, or grab a notebook and write out a space for each meal. For me, I would write out 20 squares to fill with meals.
- Make a list of the proteins you like to use. We don’t have a steak and shrimp budget at Little Sprouts, so my protein items include: Peanut butter, cottage cheese, cheese, ground beef, chicken, turkey or ham, eggs, hot dogs once a month, beans, sausage, and canned tuna. These are the meat or meat alternates that I find the kids eat well. I can find a variety of ways to use them as well. I get bored with the same ole same ole around here and no one wants to throw away food every day, so stick to what the kids like for the most part.
- Remember that a new food has to be introduced 11 times before it’s a familiar food, so please don’t give up on feeding the kids healthy items. Click here to see how to get kids to eat healthy food. It can be done. My kids are over here eating broccoli, cauliflower, greens, salads, peas, and all kinds of other things like brussel sprouts that everyone says kids won’t eat. They love it and I love feeding them well.
- Now, next to each protein, list all the ways it can be fixed. I like to leave places on my menu that say something like ground beef and then pasta in the bread column. When I do that, I can make spaghetti, goulash, soup, cheeseburger mac, or a hundred other things so our menu won’t get so boring for me. Decide if you want to do it that way or have specific dishes listed on your menu. Don’t forget peanut butter, boxed mac and cheese and other meats/meat alternates need supplemental protein. You can use cheese sticks, cottage cheese as a side dish, chopped up ham or hot dogs, or whatever you like to make these proteins count.
- See how many menu items you have. Are there around 20 there, or around 10 if that’s your goal? If so, try to take one or two off or add one or two until you have the number you need for your weeks of menu. You can repeat the same ones if they are popular and easy on the budget, so do that if you need more and can’t think of any.
- Next, write in the bread item that will go with that meal. If it’s spaghetti, of course it would be pasta, if it’s sausage biscuits, you would write or type biscuits. If you want to do cheese and crackers, that’s a great kid friendly meal. If you have a meal like scrambled eggs (kids LOVE breakfast for lunch), you could serve toast, biscuits or muffins for a bread to go with it.
- Once you have the number of main dishes you need, add fruits and vegetables. I love serving two veggies for lunch, but the USDA is about to make that against the rules, so we will need to be serving a fruit and a vegetable for lunch each day. Let me repeat again, I hate that rule. Okay, moving on. Some providers have been told the menu needs to just say fruit on one line and vegetable on the other. Some have been told that all items that will be served ever must be listed somewhere on the cycle menu. Check with your food program sponsor to find out how they want your menu done. If you need to list each fruit and veggie that will be served, we can make a list of those now. Then plug those items into the menus they sound good with. If I am going to make tuna casserole, I always put peas in it, so I can list peas there with a fruit for a side dish such as a banana or an apple.
- Easy peasy, now your lunches are done. Let’s move on to breakfast. Breakfast needs to have a bread and a fruit or veggie. Soon we will be allowed to substitute a meat for the bread a few days a week, but you don’t have to, so we can focus on the bread and fruit for now. My kids aren’t big into eating a lot of veggies for breakfast, so I usually just do fruit. Make a list of all the breads you could serve for breakfast. Pancakes, toast, muffins, cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, rice, French toast, and grits are all good breakfast breads. I’m sure you can think of 100 more as well.
- Now make a list of how many cycle menu days you have and plug one of those into each day. You can repeat any menu items you wish, so don’t worry about that.
- Add a fruit (or veggie) to each bread or meat item you have chosen to serve.
- Now look at your meal, if it’s super easy like a bowl of cheerios and some bananas, put that with your lunch that is a little more work. If you are making a casserole that takes 30 minutes to mix up, that’s a great day for cereal. If you need to make pancakes that day, serve that with an easy lunch like cheese and crackers. That way you can avoid being in the kitchen for too long in one day. We all know how that can turn out. Remember also, if you make something like pancakes from scratch, you can make 2 or 3 or 10 day’s worth at once, even on a Saturday and store them in the freezer so your breakfasts are much less stress. I urge you to make things yourself to avoid as many chemicals in the kid’s diet as possible.
- Now you have breakfast and lunch each day, we just need a snack. I find serving a morning snack makes the kids too full to eat a good lunch. Young kids need their meals to be about every three hours, so I do breakfast at 8:30 and lunch at 11:30 so I don’t have to worry about that. Then we have snack after nap which is at 3:00. It works really well for us. Snack needs to have a fruit or veggie, OR bread, OR meat/meat alternate, OR milk. You just pick any two. I’m not sure how that will change with the new rules coming out, but for now, it’s pick any two. I tend to choose bread and fruit and serve it with water, but you can choose whatever works for you. List out what you’d like to serve to the kids. I do things like muffins, toast, crackers, cereal, pretzels, cookies, and things like that with whatever fruit is in season. Occasionally we do carrot sticks or something else in the veggie category, but usually it’s fruit.
- Now that your menu rough draft is sketched out, look at each meal and check for a variety of colors. An all yellow meal is not that appetizing, so don’t serve mac and cheese, bananas, yellow squash and cheddar cheese. Do you have a variety of textures too? If everything is mushy it’s not a pleasant dining experience either. Do some hard, some soft, some crunchy, some smooth, etc. Make sure to mix temperatures in your lunches too. If your entrée is cold, make sure some of the sides are warm like roasted broccoli or something else that’s tasty. If your menu looks balanced, affordable, and easy to manage, you’re in good shape. Just print it up and start using it.
You are more than welcome to pop on over to the Little Sprouts Facebook page and ask any question you may have on menu planning or leave a comment here and I’ll be sure to answer. I know it has taken me years to get a good rhythm going with my menu and sometimes I have to make changes.
I make a grocery list that has every item I buy at the store on it, and it lists how many times I will be serving each item I need for my menu in that 4 weeks. This way, when I make my monthly or weekly shopping list, I can refer to this list and see what I need to check my supply of. It saves me tons of time and I already know how many servings of cheese I approximately need for the month.
I buy lots of food in bulk like beans, rice, oatmeal and other things in 10 or 25 pound bags online. I also buy pasta and things by the case. I buy produce weekly in the winter and in the summer, I pick it from the garden and we eat what’s growing, so my monthly trip is enough to supplement our supply. This saves me tons of time and money on my menu.
In a recent food program meeting I attended, the monitors showed us if we wanted to serve snack cakes, like little Debbie Swiss cake rolls, the serving for an after school child is 6 or 8 cake rolls. For a toddler, you would have to serve 4. I know there are children who would eat that many, and I know it’s easy to use prepackaged sweets as a snack, but please don’t serve things like that to your kids. You can do so much better than Pop Tarts and Little Debbies. Your kids deserve it!
If you want to serve them a cake, just whip up a batch of cupcakes or cookies on occasion for a special treat and stick to healthier options on the regular. Their future depends on good health.
If you want to serve flavored yogurt, you can avoid a ton of sugar and chemicals by buying a quart of plain yogurt, adding a few tablespoons of honey and come chopped fruit. You will know what’s going into your kid’s diet, and you will avoid feeding them this:
What even is potassium sorbate?
Read labels, do some research, think about what you are putting in their bodies. You’ll be so glad you did when you see them growing healthy and strong. For many years in daycare, I thought the easy way was the best way, but then I discovered that it’s not that much harder to feed them really well and I feel so much better myself. I have very few behavior problems from my kids, they rest well, they are growing, and I have energy, can think more clearly and have a lot more patience with them. I KNOW that food is the reason. Putting in the extra effort in what they eat makes my job so much easier and more fun!
Check out the blog for many dishes kids love to eat that are manageable to make for them. Our favorite taco soup is posted, my world famous roasted broccoli is there, as well as many other dishes the kids love to eat. Also, come back and check out next week’s post: Top 10 Kid Meals that Aren’t JUNK! Don’t forget to watch the blog for some new recipes I’m working on for the menu.
Take the extra time to give the best of yourself to your kids. You will take more pride in yourself and the work you are doing and it will be a lot more fun.
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