How do you approach meals, snacks, and beverages at your early learning center? As an Early Childhood Education professional, you are in a unique position to provide the tasty and nutritious food children need to grow, develop, learn, and play. You and your childcare team can also help foster a positive relationship with food in young children from an early age. In the following guide, we explore the components of a healthy food program at your childcare facility. Read on to find out more.
Nutritious Meals, Snacks, and Beverages –
Choosing the Right Option for Your Childcare Program
As a childcare provider, you have several options when it comes to providing meals, snacks, and beverages for the children in your care. The right choice for you will depend on several factors:
- What are your childcare center’s hours of operation, and how many meals and snacks are you required to provide during your childcare hours?
- What federal and local guidelines must you follow in regard to providing nutritious food for children in your program?
- What elements of healthful eating are most important to you as a childcare provider?
- What is your food budget?
- What special circumstances must you consider?
All of these factors will come into play as you decide how to provide healthy food at your childcare program.
Your first option is to buy, prepare, and serve food yourself or with the help of your childcare team. This means you or another member of your staff will be responsible for making a grocery list and buying the food and related items for preparing and serving the food. You or your teachers will prepare and serve the food at meal time and snack time. Your staff will also manage proper storage of food and beverages and safe handling and preparing of food items.
This option may be ideal for childcare providers who operate out of their homes, owners of a small early learning facility, or those who have a small, efficient staff.
Another option is to outsource your food needs to a meal service. This may look like hiring a chef/cook to take on the responsibility of planning, preparing, and serving meals at your childcare center. Or it may mean hiring a meal delivery service that specializes in school meals, especially for young children. Explore the resources available in your area. This may be the way to go for a large childcare operation with multiple locations or one where your staff has a limited capacity to devote to food service.
However you choose to provide nourishing meals for the children at your childcare center, you will want to keep in mind the following components of a healthy food program.
5 Components of a Healthy Food Program at Your Childcare Center
Your Food Budget – The most important starting point for planning food and beverage services at your Early Childhood Education center is your food budget. It’s essential that you figure out how much money in your monthly budget to allocate toward food, drink, and items related to meal service. Your business accountant can help you take a look at your childcare center budget to come up with a realistic figure for your food and beverage services.
Federal and Local Requirements – Additionally, your meals program will need to fulfill all regulations set out by federal and local governments for childcare providers. These requirements are set in place to ensure that children’s nutritional needs are met while attending daycare programs. Check these requirements to make sure your meals program is in compliance.
Wholesome Food Choices – These days, everyone seems to have an opinion on what constitutes “healthy eating.” Should we be feeding our children animal proteins or plant-based meals? Conventional produce or organic? Prepared and package foods or made-from-scratch? Decide which elements of healthy eating are most important to you as a childcare provider. In general, most experts agree that whole foods (foods that are not processed at all, or are very minimally processed) are best for children and adults alike. Whether you can afford to provide organic, locally-sourced, or non-GMO foods for children at your program will depend on your individual budget and circumstances. But with careful planning, you can provide whole foods, free of preservatives, chemicals, and artificial ingredients, to little ones in your care. This may be a good place to start.
If buying exclusively organic produce is not in your daycare food budget, don’t worry. You can check out the Environmental Working Group’s annual lists of the Clean 15 (produce with the lowest concentrations of pesticides) and Dirty Dozen (produce with the highest concentrations of pesticides). These resources are published to offer guidance as you prioritize whole food purchases for your childcare program.
Variety – Another important component of a healthful food program at your childcare center is the variety of food choices for little ones. Variety is especially vital during this foundational period in child development when children are exploring different foods, tastes, and textures. Babies starting solids for the first time, toddler “picky-eaters,” and older children need food that is not only nutrient-dense but palatable and pleasing to eat. Try to add as much variety as possible to your daycare menus, keeping in mind that while all children have different tastes, preferences, and eating habits, they will benefit from a plethora of food offerings all the same.
Safety – A final component of a healthy food program that is worth your consideration is food safety. This includes proper preparation and storage of food and beverages, eliminating food items that pose a choking risk for young children, and being mindful of food allergies and sensitivities among children at your program. Many childcare centers adopt a “nut-free” policy to account for the prevalence of food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances in little ones today. Your meals program should take these factors into account.
We hope this guide to planning a nutritious meals service at your childcare center is helpful to you and your team!
Honest Buck Accounting is committed to offering a full range of professional accounting services to Early Childhood Education businesses, including daycare centers, preschools, and charter schools. Schedule a call to speak with one of our experts.