Cooking for a bunch of kids and your family can be a really big job. I find it overwhelming sometimes but over the past 25 years I’ve come up with some shortcuts that make food prep for daycare much easier.

Saving Time on Food Prep for Your Child Care Food Program

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Cooking for a bunch of kids and your family can be a really big job. If it seems like prepping for your child care food program is overwhelming, try these shortcuts, along with a little creativity and planning ahead, to make food prep for daycare much easier. It’s part of my home daycare productivity tips.

Hands cutting carrots and tomatoes on a cutting board.

In Home Daycare Food Program

Meals we serve to daycare kids do not have to be complicated. Serving fresh fruits and vegetables cut up with slices of cheese and crackers or some quick cheese quesadillas or sandwiches are great meals for kids. 

You can cut up 4-6 kinds of fresh produce and use them for several meals to save time. You can also precut a bunch of cheese. Food prep for daycare can be a breeze. Check out these breakfast, lunch and snack ideas for inspiration!

A great time-saver I’ve done is to get a big spiral-sliced real ham, cut 12-ounce portions, and freeze them. I did slices and dices and froze them in bags in 12 ounces. My kids mostly require 1.5 ounces of protein, so that is enough for 8. 

I can use the slices for ham and crackers, ham sandwiches or ham with a roll. I can use the dices in scrambled eggs, pasta or whatever, but the meat is already prepared.

Kids love finger foods. Think about apple slices, orange slices, grapes, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, sugar snap peas, bananas, raisins and so on. There are so many great ideas with easy food prep for daycare for easy fresh meals.

Here’s more information about the child and adult care food program for in home daycare providers.

Meal prep containers with veggies, beans and more.

Saving Time on your Child Care Food Program

Use pre-planned menus

Menus help save a ton of time prepping for your child care food. I love having a daycare menu and sometimes make a menu for my family as well. 

You can see how to plan a daycare menu and how to shop for daycare here. There are many menu suggestions in these articles. When meals are planned ahead, you can make a shopping list and it’s all ready to go.

Bulk cook

When you get out the mess for food prep for daycare to make biscuits, make 5 batches. Pancakes too! When I make homemade bread, I make 12 loaves in one day, slice it all and store it in the freezer. 

If I’m getting out the mess to make homemade food, I make at least double. I double cookie recipes, make 3 lasagnas at once and freeze two, anything I can do to save time in the future. 

Use the freezer

The freezer is my best friend for getting things done.  I love feeding my kids homemade food, but I don’t love standing in the kitchen all day!

I can make bulk batches of empanadas, hot pockets, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, muffins, bread, casseroles such as pot pies, lasagnas, chicken and rice and so much more. I freeze the extra ones and can pop meals out of the freezer for a huge time saver.

You can also bulk cook meat and freeze it in one-meal portions. I like to cook 5 pounds of ground beef, drain it, and freeze it in freezer bags. I also like to get a giant pack of chicken breasts, bake them in the oven on a sheet tray with seasonings, cool and then chop into cubes and freeze. 

I can pull out meat that’s already ready to go. That’s a huge time saver when I have time to prep meat ahead.

Use the slow cooker to save time on meals

The slow cooker is a great way to fix it and forget it prepping for your child care food. I cook beans, soups, chili, pork roast, whole chickens, roast, and so much more in the crock pot. 

You just put it in and go do your thing. The crock pot has dinner ready for you. You can even cook breakfast in a crock pot. Check out these slow cooker meals.

Sheet pan meals

Sheet pan meals are also a huge time saver. Just cut up meat and veggies and toss them in the oven. There are a ton of different yummy sheet pan meals that will save you time making lunch or dinner.

Sheet pan meal with chicken and roasted vegetables on pan.

Instant pot recipes

Instant pot recipes are another huge time saver. I have made some quick meals including cooking a whole frozen roast in less than an hour. Talk about a time saver. I am the queen of forgetting to thaw meat, so the instant pot has saved me so many times. Check out my favorite instant pot recipes.

Quick protein

Canned beans and meats can be a huge time saver if you don’t have time or energy to cook and get things prepped ahead and frozen. 

I love making this taco soup with canned beans, corn and Rotel. It cooks up in a snap and it’s a favorite of kids young and old. I see kids that are grown adults now and they ask about me making them taco soup.

Taco soup in a pot.

You can also use canned tuna or chicken in salads, pasta salads, warm pasta dishes and more. If you don’t feel like you can do it all, use some canned meat to fill in the gaps until you are more organized and get more energy.

Use a food processor to save time in the kitchen

A food processor or blender can cut up a ton of food in no time. You can slice, grate, or puree your food in a snap. 

When I need to grate cheese, I set up the food processor and grate up all the cheese in my fridge and freeze it in quart size bags. Then I always have a ton of grated cheese on hand without cellulose in it. It tastes better, is better for you AND it was easy with the food processor.

A food processor or blender can also make a ton of cucumber slices, carrot slices, celery slices, tomato slices, use your imagination to think of ways to save time with this handy appliance prepping for your child care food. 

You can also toss in tomatoes, onion, and peppers and come out with a quick salsa. You can make sauces. You can chop your onions, carrots, celery or whatever you start your dishes with, all in the food processor.

Clean as you go in the kitchen

You can save a ton of time on clean-up in the kitchen by washing up what you use as you go. When I finish cooking a meal, all I have left to wash up is the pan in my tiny kitchen

I cut up the veggies and wash the knife and cutting board and put it away while my food is cooking. It’s far easier to clean as you are cooking than to end a meal with a giant mess.

Don’t peel food

I have seen the Pioneer Woman make potato dishes without peeling her potatoes. I think peeling is a huge waste of time. The peels of vegetables have a ton of nutrition and fiber, so I leave them on most of the time. 

I don’t peel potatoes, carrots, parsnips, or anything like that. I just wash them up really well and get to chopping.

Tips to cook more in less time

When I cook bacon, I put a cooling rack on a sheet tray and lay all the bacon out and bake it in the oven. Just 350 degrees for about 30 minutes and I didn’t have to stand over the pan and get greasy. 

Sausage works this way too. I use 2.5-pound rolls of blue and gold sausage. I set them in the fridge overnight to thaw and in the morning I put the roll back in the freezer. In a few hours, the outside is semi-frozen but not the center, so I can use a serrated knife to cut the whole roll into slices and place it on the pan to bake. It saves a ton of time over hand-making patties.

Do you serve butternut or other hard squashes? They are tough to cut. I put the whole thing on a sheet pan and bake it until it’s soft enough to cut easily. Then I scoop out the seeds and season and finish cooking it.

If you are going to make fried potatoes or sauteed potatoes, wash the potatoes and toss them in the microwave. Cook for a couple of minutes and they are semi-cooked and cut super easily. I saw the Pioneer Woman do this and it works! Cuts your cooking time in half.

Cucumber being cut on a cutting board.

Time-saving tips for the daycare kitchen

  • Cut up all your fruits and veggies for the week and put them in the fridge. This makes it easy to grab a few for each meal. 
  • Anything you can toss in the oven on a sheet tray helps you get more done while the oven does the work. 
  • I love to wash all my fruits and veggies as soon as I get home from the store. I make a big sink full of vinegar water and soak several things at once. Leave about 10 minutes, rinse and set in a colander to drain. Then I towel dry them and put them away. When I’m ready to cook, my food is partly prepped.
  • When I put up dishes at night, I leave out the cooking pots and pans I need for lunch the next day.

Kitchen arrangement

Good kitchen arrangement can save a ton of time prepping for your child care food program. 

  • Make sure knives are by the sink and cutting board and your trash or compost are there too. 
  • Keep stirring and flipping utensils by the stove. Pots and pans too. 
  • Have good knives. We waste a ton of time when we don’t have good equipment to work with. 
  • Have a recipe stand so you don’t have to fidget with your recipe to read it.

There are so many ways you can cut time in the kitchen so you can prepare a ton of great healthy meals for your kids without relying on frozen fries and hot dogs. 

Your kids will behave better if you feed them fresh, whole food, and you’ll feel good knowing you fed them your best. 

Get in a routine of cleaning as you go and planning ahead and you’ll be cranking out high-quality meals in the time it would take you to heat up a frozen dinner in no time.

Check out this daycare food menu meal planning guide for more ideas on how to plan out your menus well. 

If you want to buy pre-planned menus, check out Daycare Time Solutions for monthly menu plans – click on “shop all” and “menu plans” for menus that meet daycare food program requirements. 

Or if you want a sheet with a sample week and shopping list to get you started, check out this planning pack.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of my series on how to run a home daycare and increasing your productivity: 

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