Menu Planning

Eating a wide variety of foods is the best way to ensure nutritional adequacy and good health. So often parents and providers tell us “Well, I only serve peanut butter sandwiches (or pizza or chicken nuggets) because that’s all the kids like and will eat.” When we become concerned about preparing a meal of favorite foods, sometimes we lose sight of the importance of introducing young children to the delightful variety of foods that are important for a well balanced diet.

Taking a little time to plan your menus each week not only saves time, money and frustration at mealtimes, it also helps increase variety in your menus. Here are some tips to make the process easier:
  • Gather all your tools – paper, pencils, cookbooks/recipes, etc.
  • Check the ingredients you have on hand.
  • Decide how far in advance you want to plan – one week, two weeks, one month.
  • Think about how you want to plan – one day at a time, or all breakfasts, then lunches, then snacks.
  • Consider the amount of time between snacks and meals. For example, if afternoon snack is a long time after lunch or you are feeding hungry children after school, you may want to have more food available.
  • Plan for variety – color, texture, shape, temperature, flavors and preparation methods.
  • Include foods that reflect the ethnic and cultural food practices of the children.
  • Consider how you serve meals (individual or family style).
  • Plan for nutritional balance. If you are a child care provider on the Child Care Food Program (CCFP), check to see if your menus follow the CCFP guidelines.

 

After you have finished planning, use the following checklist to evaluate your menus.
  • Variety:
    • Color
    • Texture
    • Shape
    • Temperature
    • Flavors
    • Preparation methods
  • Whole-grain bread/cereal products are served often
  • Raw fruits and vegetables are served often
  • Good source of vitamin C included daily
  • Good source of vitamin A served at least 4 times per week
  • Good source of iron included daily
  • Most of the foods are familiar to and enjoyed by most of the children
  • Some of the food are new; some familiar foods are prepared differently
  • Higher-fat foods are balanced with lower-fat foods
  • Snacks fill in nutritional gaps in the main meals
  • Cultural, ethnic and religious preferences are considered
  • Substitutions are planned for children with allergies
  • Menus reflect holidays, birthdays, field trips and special events
  • Expensive foods are balanced with less expensive foods