When you get ready to plan a daycare menu, do you feel overwhelmed? With a few simple steps, you'll have your menu planned before you know it.

How to Plan a Daycare MENU

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When you get ready to plan a daycare menu, do you feel overwhelmed? With a few simple steps, you’ll have your menu planned before you know it. If you’re wondering about the child and adult care food program for daycare providers, check this out.

When you get ready to plan a daycare menu, do you feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to begin? With a few simple steps, you'll have your menu planned before you know it.

Making a plan for your childcare menu is a big job and a big part of running a home daycare. I would highly recommend getting on a food program because they give you guidelines to go by.

I don’t wholeheartedly 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!

Daycare lunch ideas

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. So your daycare lunch ideas can actually change the world!

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.

Printable menu planning sheets and daycare planning sheets

And then check out this daycare food menu meal planning guide for more ideas on how to plan out your menus well. These resources are going to be a great help to you! And if you want to buy menus already planned out, check out Daycare Time Solutions for monthly menu plans, click on shop all and menu plans for menus that meet 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.

Daycare food menu

When preparing your meals for the daycare food menu, 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 your daycare lunch ideas 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.

Click here to see how you can get your kids to eat healthy food easier than you think!

Zero to Hero Nutrition E-Book
kids enjoying healthy food

Daycare menu

If you do use processed foods for the daycare menu, which we all do sometimes, try to give the kids a balance of healthy versus 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 for the daycare menu. Not a whole lot more work, but more benefit.

So if you’re going to serve the kids hot dogs on the daycare menu, 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?

Daycare weekly menus

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 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.

Daycare meal plan

Now, next to each protein on the daycare meal plan, list all the ways it can be made. 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 daycare meal plan 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.

Childcare meal plan

Next, write in the bread item that will go with that meal on the childcare meal plan. If you want ideas to meet the daily whole grain requirement, check this out. If it’s spaghetti, of course, it would be pasta, if it’s sausage biscuits, you would write or type biscuits. Cheese and crackers is 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 for the childcare meal plan, add fruits and vegetables. 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 daycare 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.

Home daycare meal plans

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 on your home daycare meal plans.

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.

Home daycare menu

Now you have breakfast and lunch each day for your daycare menu, 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 for my daycare menu 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 daycare 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.

Daycare meal plandaycare cycle menu with breakfast lunch and snack

daycare menu planning for food program

You are more than welcome to pop on over to the Little Sprouts Facebook page and ask any question you may have about daycare meal plan ideas 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 when I plan a daycare menu and sometimes I have to make changes.

food program menu planning for childcare
daycare cycle menu for one week

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 those 4 weeks for the daycare meal plan.

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.

Healthy daycare menu plan

I buy lots of food in bulk like beans, rice, oatmeal and other things in 10 or 25-pound bags online. Also, I 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 is the best thing I do to provide a healthy daycare menu plan for my kids. This saves me tons of time and money on my menu. Check out all the great meals you can make with your pantry staples!

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 some 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? I don’t know, but I want my healthy daycare menu plan not to have stuff I don’t know the nature of.

Check out the new food program rules on yogurt and other foods here. I even have a free printable CACFP Yogurt list that’s allowed by brand and everything here.

Childcare menu

Read labels, do some research, think about what you are putting in your kid’s bodies. You’ll be so glad you did when you see them growing healthy and strong because of a little extra effort in planning your childcare menu for them. For many years in daycare, I thought the easy way was the best way, but some 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! It all started with changing my family’s diet and my childcare menu.


Check out the blog for many dishes kids love to eat that are manageable to make for them. Click on the categories at the right on recipes. Our favorite taco soup is posted, my world famous roasted broccoli is there, as well as many other dishes the kids love to eat.

Take the extra time to plan a daycare menu and 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.

For more daycare tips for providers, click here.

How to Plan a Daycare MENU

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    1. There’s not really any way for me to figure that for everyone, so I just did the mid range so it could be an estimate. I wish I could be of more help, but thanks for checking it out and reading it.

  1. Hi! Thank you for providing your ideas and menus and how to plan for daycare. we always run into the challenge of making a good nutritious meals for the children I love hearing of ideas thank you!

  2. Hi: Thank you for all your insight. I have come to hate lunch. My picky eaters are driving me crazy. I have one child that only eats pasta and fruit, no vegetables or meats. Breakfast is never an issue but lunch turns my stomach. None of my children will eat salad greens. As for vegetables: corn, peas, carrots, mixed vegetables, tomato and cucumber is all they will eat and even those they sometimes will not eat. No broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, peppers. It seems so boring – no variety. If I deviate, so much food goes in the trash. But my little guy all he wants is pasta. I am seriously considering giving them breakfast twice a day. lol but not really.


    1. Picky eating is a tough problem. Don’t give up though, most kids can learn to like a lot more foods if given them repeatedly. It’s tough to throw food away, I can definitely relate, but I have found if I am relaxed and positive, over time, with letting kids prepare foods, trying to offer them in a fun way (like make a face out of broccoli and let the kids each take some of it to eat), and being patient, most kids will learn to like most foods. There are always some picky kids that never do for sure!