When planning meals for your day care, your responsibility goes beyond placing a nutritionally balanced plate in front of a child. You play a significant role in helping young children establish healthy eating habits. Children should have opportunities to try new foods, as well as enjoy some of their favorites. Planning for relaxed and functional meal times will help children to expand their palette and get the nutrition they need on a daily basis.
Plan for special dietary needs. Before planning your weekly or monthly menus, take into consideration any food allergies or health related food needs, such as those resulting from diabetes. In some cases, you may need a completely separate menu for children with needs in this category. However, you may be able to accommodate special meal requirements with modifications in preparation or ingredients.
Use the USDA's food pyramid as a guide for nutritionally balanced meals. The USDA recommends 3 ounces of grains, 1 cup of vegetables, 1 cup of fruit and 2 ounces from the meat and been group daily for ages two and three, according to mypyramid.gov. Recommendations for ages four and five are 5 ounces of grains, 1.5 cups of vegetables, 1.5 cups of fruit and 3 to 4 ounces from the meat and bean group daily. Children between two and five need 2 cups of milk daily.
Use a spreadsheet or notebook to plan menus by the week or the month. Writing everything down will help you stay organized at the grocery store, and make it easier for you to make substitutions if you've overlooked an item when shopping. It's also a good idea to keep a copy of your menu in an accessible area so that parents can see what you're serving and plan their meals accordingly.
Plan for a variety of colors, tastes and textures. When you present aesthetically pleasing plates, children are more likely to be receptive to new foods. Varied tastes and textures keep the meal interesting and help children develop a diverse palette.
Incorporate cultural diversity into your meal planning. Consider serving meals of Chinese, Mexican, Italian or Thai origin, for example. Use these themed meals as a springboard into conversations and learning opportunities about different cultures.
Babies and infants have specific dietary needs, and a child's pediatrician is often the best source for advice concerning meal planning up until age two. Work with parents to plan menus appropriate for babies and infants in your care.