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I think it’s tough to make quality food for my daycare kids when they are here. I love make ahead meals that can cut the time down, but I can still feel good about serving. Great helps for planning a daycare menu.
I want my daycare kids to eat nutritious healthy food. But they can be a handful and I don’t always have a ton of time to prepare those meals. I don’t want to use pop tarts and frozen chicken blobs from a bag. We grow most of our own vegetables in the summer in our preschool garden. I try to find quality food at other times of the year too. I don’t want to pare that with frozen hot pockets.
So, I do a lot of meal prep on the weekends. And I learned how to make my own hot pockets and empanadas and other meals with good quality ingredients that I can freeze and pop in the oven when they are here.
If you want help getting your kids to actually EAT healthy food, check this out.
I make all of their bread products homemade because I have food allergies that prevent me from finding much I can eat at the store. But when I researched those ingredients that were making me sick, I found out that no one else should be eating them either. Preservatives, additives, and fake ingredients of all kinds are making us sick!
So, I learned how to make homemade bread, muffins, and sweet breads like peach bread, banana bread, and biscuits. I make homemade pancakes for them and occasionally waffles, but those are a lot more work. (I like easy breakfast, and easy meals in general)
Daycare meal ideas
A great way to save time on meal prep for kids is to serve a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables and cut them all up at once. On Sunday night you could wash up all the grapes and berries, cut up some apples and sprinkle a little lemon juice over them. Cut up cucumbers, oranges, carrot sticks, lettuce, peaches, squash, and anything else you want to serve raw.
If you do want to serve cooked vegetables, you can cut them up then too. I like to dice up butternut squash or sweet or white potatoes, precut my onions, and cut up heads of broccoli and cauliflower. All of that stuff makes a mess, so if you do it all at once, the cleanup time is reduced drastically throughout the week.
For a printable meal planning packet to help you plan out your week’s menus along with sample menus and a shopping list, click the highlighted link.
Another great tool is the freezer. Those hot pockets and empanadas I talked about, I made them on the weekends and freeze them too. I love making ham and cheese hot pockets. I prebake them and then just rewarm them in the oven. I do the same with my sausage, cheese and potato empanadas.
I make ahead and freeze meatballs. You can use the same recipe and form it into meatloaf and bake and freeze. You can also do the same with sausage balls. Kids love a ball you can pick up and eat. My husband is a big fan of the sausage balls too. He gets really excited when he sees them in his lunch.
Another great way to get freezer meals is to make a big casserole or soup like this taco soup that kids LOVE, and double the recipe. Serve one and freeze the other for later. It’s a great time-saver on a busy day. For even more ideas for healthy soups for kids, check this out.
I also like to do that with a big piece of meat, like a roast, chicken, or pork roast and have the meat in serving sizes, just pull it out and throw it in some soup or pasta or make tacos with it in a snap. I like to buy a big real ham and slice some and dice some. The slices can be a meat dish on their own or go in a sandwich and the dices can be used to a ton of things.
Diced ham is great in scrambled eggs, casseroles, pasta dishes and you can even use it to top baked potatoes or something like that. I buy a big ole ham and dice it and slice it up and use it for all different things. Having that in the freezer is a great time saver.
Check out these other great freezer meal ideas and see if there is something your kids would love.
Make ahead meals for childcare
What other kinds of meals can you make ahead? I like to even make sandwiches in the morning before the kids come for lunch that day. Or cut up some cheese for cheese and crackers. If my sides are already prepped, I can just make milk cups and grab out the lunch. It’s great on more busy days like water play or a party day.
A great trick I love is making a yummy soup or pasta dish for dinner after work and then serving the leftovers to the kids the next day. I can make a good quality healthy meal, like these homemade hamburger helper type recipes that are full of goodness, but I don’t have to spend a lot of time working on them during daycare hours.
And then according to Tom Copeland, the world’s best childcare tax advocate, I can claim the time making it as part of my hours worked. That’s a win-win in my book.
Make ahead breakfasts
Some great daycare breakfasts you can make ahead could be sausage balls like we talked about above, or even the hot pockets and empanadas would be yummy. You could also make a ton of muffins or sweet bread and put them in the freezer to thaw out and enjoy in the morning. A good breakfast casserole can be whipped up in the morning and then tossed in the oven when the kids arrive. You don’t have to stand over it. AND you can even have the kids make it as an activity.
Sausage can be cooked up in bulk the night before or weeks before and frozen and so can biscuits. You can serve jelly biscuits or sausage biscuits. Pancakes are another great make ahead and freeze idea for breakfast.
Check out these CACFP approved breakfast ideas and see if you can find a way to make any of them ahead.
Make ahead lunches
Lunches that can be made ahead could be hot pockets, empanadas, sausage biscuits, pancakes and sausage, cheese and crackers, and sandwiches like I mentioned earlier. You can also make beans or rice or both and store it in the fridge. You could serve the beans with cornbread or use them in soups. You can use the rice to make up a casserole or soup in the morning and then toss it on the stove or in the oven right before lunch.
Tortillas can be used in make-ahead meals in a tortilla casserole that can be made the night before or in the morning and then put in the oven later. I also have learned to cook sausage patties on a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet in the oven. Then I don’t have to watch the sausage closely while it cooks. It’s a great time saver for me and FAR less clean up.
Pasta can be cooked ahead and reheated. There are so many great ideas that can be made ahead and save your sanity during the daycare day.
Check out these CACFP approved lunch ideas and see if you can find some that can be made ahead too.
Make ahead snacks
Many of the above-mentioned foods can be served as snacks as well. Muffins, sausage balls, biscuits, and bread are all great. You could also make homemade pretzels like these and have them in the freezer. Snack mix with cereal, crackers and raisins can be made ahead and used throughout the week. You could spread peanut butter on crackers while the kids nap or cut up cheese ahead of time as well.
Check out these other CACFP approved snack ideas and see if you can find some that can be made ahead too.
I hope you find a ton of time-saving ideas that can help streamline your day and make it easier. I know that in all things daycare, the more prepared you are, the more success you usually find. So I love finding ways to plan ahead and beat the chaos.