It is important to plan ahead when preparing meals for children, so that a variety of food is offered. Planning ahead also helps with shopping for ingredients and budgeting.

Developing a menu

Developing a menu will make planning and preparing meals much easier. A sample menu has been included on pages 32 and 33. To develop your own menu follow these steps, referring to the sample menu as you go.

1. Decide on the number of days your menu will cover.

It is generally easier to plan a ‘cycle’ menu, or a menu that is repeated over a period of time, than to come up with a large number of ‘one-off’ meals and snacks. Having a planned cycle reduces the time you spend on planning and ordering. Depending on your setting and its requirements, a three- or four-week menu may be needed for variety. If the majority of children attend only occasionally, a shorter cycle may work, although it still needs to be varied. If using a shorter cycle, consider a six- or seven-day menu to ensure children are offered a variety of food each time they attend care.

Refer to the sample menu on pages 32 and 33, which is a 10-day or two-week menu.

2. Decide whether you will offer one or two courses at lunchtime.

Refer to the sample menu on pages 32 and 33, which offers two courses at lunchtime.

If you decide to offer one course, additional food may be needed at snack times.

3. Draw up a chart on a piece of paper or on the computer.

Make sure you have enough columns to cover the number of days that will be in your menu cycle, and enough rows for the snacks and the number of courses each day.

Refer to the sample menu on pages 32 and 33. Across the top of the page are the column names. Since this is a twoweek menu it consists of two pages, with a column for each
of the ten days. Down the left side are five rows for the snacks and main courses scheduled in each day.

4. Review your recipe collection and think about meal ideas.

When you review your collection of recipes, think about what is in season. Seasonal items often taste better and are usually much cheaper. Each midday and evening meal needs to include the folllowing for each child:
  • one serve of lean meat, poultry, fish or an alternative
  • one serves of bread, cereal or grains
  • one or two serves of vegetables
Refer to the sample menu on pages 32 and 33. This menu includes a variety of foods from each of the food groups.
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5. Start filling in your table with meal ideas.

  • Start with the dish that has the main source of protein (meat, fish, chicken or an alternative such as eggs or legumes). For example, a lamb curry has meat as the source of protein, a tuna bake has fish, and lentil soup has legumes as the protein source.
  • Add foods that will go well with the main dish, and aim for a variety of colours. For example, is a green or orange vegetable needed because there are none in the main dish? Will the dish be served with rice, noodles or bread?
  • If you offer a second course, choose foods that complement the main dish. Generally, fruit-based and/or milk-based second courses are the best choices.
  • Make sure there is a variety of types of dishes over the week. A variety of flavours, colours and cooking styles will add to the appeal of the meal.
Refer to the sample menu on pages 32 and 33. Throughout the cycle, there are various foods from each of the food groups.

6. Add snacks to the menu table.

You might have regular snack choices – for example, fruit at morning tea time, plain dry biscuits or a sandwich in the afternoon. You may want to consider varying this slightly. Some alternatives include canned fruit with yoghurt, a fruit smoothie, fruit with ricotta dip, steamed vegetable sticks with dip, or small pieces of corn on the cob. Occasionally, you may decide to offer baked items such as banana bread or pikelets.

For snacks, aim for one or two serves from a combination of:
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • milk, cheese, yoghurt or alternatives
  • breads, cereal and grains.
Refer to the sample menu on pages 32 and 33. Morning tea includes a snack that takes only a little preparation time. Some afternoon tea snacks require baking or longer preparation time.

7. A few more things to consider...

Before you finish your menu, there are a few things to check, such as:
  • The logistics and timing of the food preparation. For example, do not plan something baked for afternoon tea if you will need to use the oven for lunch, as there may not be enough time for both. Or be sure to plan dishes that need only a short preparation time for days when you will be grocery shopping.
  • Consider swapping days when you repeat the menu. Offering dishes on different days of the week gives variety to children who only attend on certain days.

Vegetarian and vegan eating practices

Some families follow vegetarian eating practices. Usually, this means they avoid eating animal products such as meat, poultry and fish. Some vegetarians do eat animal-related products such as eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt.

It is especially important for vegetarians to eat a variety of legumes, nuts, seeds and grain-based foods, as they provide the nutrients that would otherwise be provided by meat, poultry and fish. Be careful with offering nuts and seeds, as they are a choking risk for young children.

Vegan eating practices exclude all foods which have an animal origin, such as milk, cheese and eggs, as well as meat, poultry and fish. It is very difficult to meet children’s need for nutrients with vegan eating practices, as the amount of food needed to supply sufficient nutrients may be too large for the child to manage. Families should plan carefully for a child on a vegan diet, and it may not be possible for a setting to offer meals and snacks for children who are vegans.

Religious and cultural practices

It is important to consider and respect the values of families, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Some children and settings will follow religious and cultural beliefs that guide eating practices, for example Kosher or Halal. Settings that adopt particular practices such as these can still follow the nutrition guidelines previously described. Some parents may choose to provide food from home for their children – information on providing food from home can be found in the Family Book and the Staff and Carer Book.

Recommended serving sizes for toddlers and pre-schoolers

The following table is a guide for the amount of food that should be provided to children. Use the guide to estimate how much to offer at one time. In every main meal, aim to include a minimum of one serve from one or two of the following food groups: breads and cereals, vegetables, and meat or alternatives. In every snack, offer half to one serve from one or two of the following food groups: breads and cereals, vegetables, fruit, or dairy and alternatives. Remember to offer appropriate children’s serves, and let children decide how much they will eat. Children’s appetites will vary and they will eat more on some days and less on others.
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Food group Children's serve
Breads and cereals

1 slice bread

or 1/2 cup breakfast cereal

or 1/2 cup cooked rice

or 1/2 cup cooked pasta

Vegetables 1/4 cup vegetables - include 2 or 3 different types
Fruit

1/2 cup fresh or stewed fruit

or 1 small piece of fruit

or 1/2 medium-sized fruit

or an equivalent amount of 2 or 3 different fruits

Dairy and alternatives

100ml milk

or 15g cheese

or 100g yoghurt

or 100ml calcium-fortified soy milk

Meat and alternatives

45g cooked lean red or white meat

or 50g cooked fish

or 1/4 cup cooked legumes (baked beans, chickpeas)

or 1 egg

For the purpose of this resource, children's serves have been based on the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia.

'I'm still hungry'

Children’s appetites will vary and they will eat more on some days and less on others. It is important to have extra food available if a child is still hungry at the end of a meal or snack. Extra servings of the main meal or a part of the main meal can be offered, if available. If not available, offer a piece of fruit or one or two crackers.
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Ordering and shopping

How much food do I need to buy?

Plan your meals and snacks at least one week ahead of time. Refer to your menu and write down all of the ingredients you will need for the week. Check the cupboards to see what you already have, then prepare a shopping list and purchase everything else that you will need. It is often cheaper to buy in bulk, so you may want to buy non-perishable foods in larger quantities, and just stock up on any fresh food each week.
Snack or course Sample Menu Day 6 Sample Menu Day 7 Sample Menu Day 8 Sample Menu Day 9 Sample Menu Day 10
Morning tea
  • Cheese and biscuits
  • Fresh fruit
  • Wholemeal English muffin with spreads
  • Raisin toast with ricotta cheese
  • Fresh fruit
Drink
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
First course for lunch
  • Creamy tuna pasta
  • Mixed salad
  • Vegetable stir fry with broccoli, egg and tofu
  • Lamb with minted peas
  • Polenta
  • Carrots, corn and peas
  • Pea and ham frittata
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Chilli con carne with rice and cheese
  • Tortilla
  • Green salad
Drink
  • Water
  • Water
  • Water
  • Water
  • Water
Second course for lunch
  • Fruity bread pudding
  • Fresh fruit
  • Yoghurt
  • Fruit kebabs
  • Yoghurt dip
  • Fruit salad
  • Canned pears
  • Custard
Afternoon tea
  • Fresh fruit
  • Cheese and corn muffins
  • Banana bread
  • Steamed vegetable sticks
  • Tzatziki dip
  • Pikelets
  • Fresh fruit
Drink
  • Milk or waterd
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
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Snack or course Sample Menu Day 1 Sample Menu Day 2 Sample Menu Day 3 Sample Menu Day 4 Sample Menu Day 5
Morning tea
  • Fresh fruit
  • Raisin toast
  • Fresh fruit
  • Wholemeal toast with spreads
  • Raisin toast
Drink
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
First course for lunch
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Couscous, pumpkin, peas adn broccoli
  • Chicken and vegetable stirfry
  • Rice
  • Sweet potato and chickpea patties
  • Turkish bread
  • Mixed salad
  • Lasagne
  • Pita bread
  • Peas and broccoli
  • Baked chicken risotto
  • Green salad
Drink
  • Water
  • Water
  • Water
  • Water
  • Water
Second course for lunch
  • Stewed apple
  • Custard
  • Fresh fruit
  • Yoghurt
  • Stewed apricots
  • Yoghurt
  • Fresh fruit
  • Apple sponge
  • Custard
Afternoon tea
  • Pita bread with hommus
  • Fruit smoothies

 

  • Pikelets
  • Berries
  • Scones with fruit jam
  • Fresh fruit
  • Yoghurt
Drink
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
  • Milk or water
The folowing foods will keep well in the cupboard, fridge or freezer, and are used in many recipes.Top of page

Dry ingredients

  • Wholemeal plain flour
  • Wholemeal seff-raising flour
  • Pasta, spaghetti and noodles
  • Rice
  • Dried beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Dried milk powder

Canned foods

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned fruit (in ntural juice)
  • Canned tuna (in springwater)
  • Dried or canned beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Baked beans
  • Canned evaporated milk

Frozen foods

  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Mixed vegetables

Refrigerator foods

  • Eggs

Fresh foods

  • Onions
  • Garlic

Other

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Long-life/UHT milk
  • Dried herbs and spices

Breakfast

Breakfast is an important meal. Starting each day with breakfast is important in establishing a healthy eating routine.

If children don’t eat breakfast:
  • it is more difficult for them to control their behaviour and enjoy their day
  • it is very difficult for them to get enough nutrients for the day
  • they become hungry later in the day, so are more likely to eat less nutritious snack foods
  • it is more likely that they will be overweight or obese.
Breakfast can be simple and nutritious, and does not have to be costly or involve a lot of preparation. Even if your setting does not offer breakfast, it is useful to have some breakfast foods available for children who arrive without having eaten. If you find that many children are arriving without having had breakfast, you may want to consider adding breakfast to your daily menu or encouraging families to supply breakfast for their children.

Some healthy and quick breakfast options include:
  • wholegrain cereal, milk and fruit
  • porridge with fruit and a glass of milk
  • yoghurt with fruit, or a fruit smoothie
  • toast or a crumpet with cheese and slices of fruit
  • pikelets topped with ricotta and fruit.