What’s on the menu at childcare?

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Highlights
  • Childcare meals and snacks may provide a large percentage of a child’s daily nutritional intake.
  • Parents should feel comfortable asking to review menus and inspecting the kitchen area.
  • Menus should include fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and no more than 4 fl. oz. of juice each day.
  • Expect social skills and table manners to be taught at daycare.

If you’re a working mom, you’re not alone. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 75% of children under 6 years old spend some time in childcare each week.

Managing the day-to-day demands of work and childcare isn’t easy. However, knowing your child is being well-nourished when he’s not with you can give you peace of mind.

Setting expectations 

Children in full-time childcare usually consume half to three-quarters of their daily calories at their daycare. This means it has a big influence on your child’s nutrition, helping to shape his eating habits.
Here are some things to look for in your child’s care center nutrition program:
  • Meals and snacks should be offered every two to three hours. Look for items like whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables on the menu. Ask how the staff helps picky eaters try new foods.
  • Serving sizes of foods and plates, cups and utensils should be age- and developmentally appropriate. 
  • Menus should be created under the guidance of a registered dietitian or other food and nutrition professional. This will help provide some assurance that your childcare center menus meet nutritional standards.

Getting answers to your food related questions

  • Ask for a copy of the weekly menu so you can see exactly what’s being served.
  • Check out the kitchen/food preparation area to make sure it’s clean. Are leftovers properly covered and stored? Is the refrigerator working properly to keep food well-chilled? Is the staff wearing gloves when preparing food? If disposable products aren’t being used, what’s the procedure for washing cups, plates and utensils?
  • Show up for lunch or snack-time to see how the kids are being served. Are they sitting on the floor while eating, or seated at child-sized tables? Staff should be there to supervise and teach social skills and table manners.
  • Ask for feedback on how your child has been eating. Talk to the staff that routinely work with your child and establish a line of communication. Let them know you’ll be checking in with them for updates.

What should childcare offer your Toddler?

Here are some specific guidelines as to what should be on the plate. Keep in mind that all foods should be appropriate in size, shape and texture to match your child's feeding skills.

Fruits and vegetables

  • Options high in Vitamin C should be served on a daily basis. 
  • Foods rich in Vitamin A should be served at least three times a week.
  • Between home and daycare, children should get five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, especially dark green and yellow vegetables and citrus fruits. 
  • Raw fresh fruits and vegetables provide fiber and avoid losing nutrients through cooking.


Juice

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting 100% juice to 4 to 6 fl. oz. per day. Sweetened drinks or -ades should not be served.


Grains

  • Whole-grain foods, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread, should be on the menu.


Dairy products 

  • Milk choices should include whole and reduced-fat milk. Flavored milks, with added sugar, are unnecessary, add extra calories and shouldn’t be offered. 

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