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  • Writer's pictureOSCAR Care Group

How to build a delicious and nutritious Childcare Menu

Childcare Centres and ELCs are pivotal in influencing a child’s food and nutrition journey from a very early age. However, food preparation is more than just sandwiches or pasta for lunch. It requires intricate and innovative planning to ensure food being offered is seasonal, shows variety, is culturally inclusive, adaptable for children with allergies or intolerances, food safe, pleasing to the eye, and of course, nutritious for little ones. Tricky? Yes! Impossible? Not at all! Let’s take a look into menu planning for Childcare centres and how Dietitians play a role in ensuring safe, delicious, and nutritious food service for children.  After all, healthy Kids are happy kids.


How to build a delicious and nutritious Childcare Menu

Building a menu (for Long Day Care)

Food provided in Childcare Centres has an essential role to play. Not only in the growth and development of children, but also in the development of their future eating habits. As such, optimising childcare menus is a critical aspect of good quality childcare.


As per the Healthy Eating Advisory Service Menu Planning Guidelines, menus providing morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea in Long Day Care Childcare Centres are expected to meet approximately half of a child’s daily nutritional requirements. If you also provide breakfast and/or a late snack, the provision of a child’s daily nutritional requirements is even greater.


Therefore, a variety of foods such as lean meat, fish, chicken, milks, yoghurts, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and cereals should be provided. Aim to limit sources of added fat, sugar, and salt. It is also important to include a range of textures and tastes, appropriate to the developmental stages of different age groups.


The art of meal planning

Menu planning provides an opportunity to plan meals which saves time in the kitchen, prevents food waste, and promotes healthy eating to these growing bodies. Keep the following in mind when designing your childcare menu...

  • aesthetically pleasing (children will eat with their eyes)

  • diverse in ingredients (e.g., changing the protein source at each meal),

  • diverse in culture

  • offer variety to minimise taste fatigue (avoid the same food on consecutive days),

  • highlight seasonal produce to optimise nutritional value (e.g., citrus fruits in the winter months),

  • use appropriate cooking methods to suit the current climate (e.g., casseroles during winter and fresh lunches for the warmer months).


Make your menu nutritious

As per the Healthy Eating Advisory Service Menu Planning Guidelines for Long Day Care, the recommended number of serves for each of the five food groups is listed below for ages 3 to 5 year-old children:

Food Groups
Recommended minimum serves per day for 3-5 year olds

Grain (Cereal) Foods

2

Vegetables and Legumes/Beans

1 – 1 ½

Fruit

1

Meat and Alternatives

1

Milk, Cheese, Yoghurt and/or Alternatives

2

For each food group, an example of a single serve would look like:

For each food group, an example of a single serve for children would look like

Keep your menus seasonal

Toddlers and young children always have a favourite food that they could consume daily but variety is key to avoid taste fatigue. Cold foods such as salads and sandwiches are great during the warmer months, but as the weather cools down, having a hearty pasta or soup just hits the spot! Aim for 4 menus per year with a 4 to 6 week rotation.


Foods to keep in moderation

Discretionary foods such as chocolate, biscuits, lollies, ice cream and fried foods should not be included on a regular basis in childcare. Individual centres may have a policy on the availability of confectionaries and other discretionary foods, including limiting this to celebration days and special occasions.


Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, juices and cordials should be limited or excluded from the menu. Children are encouraged to drink water and milk throughout the day.


Key points to remember when building your menu

  • Including a variety of foods from each food group in sufficient serving sizes will assist children in achieving a nutritious and balanced diet to promote health and minimise the risk of nutrient deficiencies.

  • Focus on water as the main beverage provided

  • Limit sources of added fat, sugar, and salt.

  • Include an extra ‘late’ snack for children attending care for 8 or more hours.

  • Having a culturally diverse menu is a great way to be culturally inclusive and teach children about the varying cultures of the world and diversity within Australia.

 

Although menu reviews and Dietitian involvement are not yet mandatory in childcare, it is highly recommended that Childcare Centres start getting Dietitians involved (like us!). Dietitians make sure variety is offered minimising repetition, catering for allergies, providing recipes and providing nutritional support to your team. Growing children deserve the best opportunities to develop healthily, and this requires Dietitian involvement to support nutrition and the menu planning process. If in doubt, reach out to our team.


 

Need more help with your childcare menus?

Juggling the different age groups, a variety of allergies and sensory issues with an array of little tastebuds is no doubt a challenge. Our Dietitians are here to ensure all children are offered nutritious meals, whilst having the opportunity to partake in positive mealtime experiences within your care. How we can help…


Review your menu

A thorough review by an Accredited Practising Dietitian to ensure your centre is meeting requirements and adhering to current guidelines.

Childcare menu review dates with a dietitian for 2024



Develop a menu from scratch with our Dietitian

Ideal for newly opened centres or centres who want a fresh start. Our Team will build a 4 -week cyclic childcare menu that is seasonally appropriate and individualised to your centre while meeting nutritional guidelines. Find out more


Nutrition training for educators and families

As children are eating majority of their dietary requirements within long day care, nutrition training is important. Our Team of Dietitians provide tailored training to suits the needs of your centre and families.  Training can be held after-hours to accommodate all.


Dietitians often receive so many questions on fussy eating. We have a 1-hour Fussy Eating Presentation, where one of amazing our Dietitians can come out to your childcare centre and present to the educators and families on this topic.


What is covered? Of course, fussy eating, as well as:

  • Childhood nutrition

  • What to do if your child dislikes...

  • How to encourage healthy eating

  • Fostering healthy habits

  • Strategies to deal with fussy eating.

  • Sensory Issues

  • Steps to eating.


We aspire to empower everyone to live healthy and balanced lives and are here to support you in raising the next generation of healthy eaters.





Childcare Recipes

Our new Childcare Recipe Book is filled with delicious recipes. Soon to be release, to be the first to know, register your interest into our recipe book here. Our Team of Dietitians can also customise recipes to suit your children’s cultural or allergy needs.  For more information on this, reach out to our Team.

 


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