Meal planning is one of those things I hate to do. It just seems like it takes up so much of my time and it’s not fun! Can you relate? Well, if you hate meal planning and grocery shopping as much as me, read on.
(This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.)
How to Make Practical Meal Plans for Your Daycare
Why You Need a Meal Plan for Your Daycare
Do you want to be running to the store every evening or dragging all your daycare kids with you? I sure don’t! If you don’t either, then you need to make a meal plan.
I have a free meal plan template you can click here to download! There are also programs like Kid Kare that allow you to meal plan and keep track of other daycare records.
If you don’t feel like using the computer you can just use notebook paper. Any of these options will work, but you have to plan them! Then, you can focus on your day without trying to figure out what to make last minute and if you have the ingredients on hand.
You need to set specific meal times. CACFP requires this in order to get reimbursement for meals anyway. Creating a schedule will help both you and the kids. It also gives you the ability to say “no” to snacking all day.
How to Make a Meal Plan for Your Daycare
The food program requires a carb and a fruit or veggie for breakfast.
Once every week or two, I’ll make waffles or french toast when I personally am hungry for it! But usually, I stick with toast, English muffins, or cereal because they’re cheap and quick.
You can mix and match the fruits so they don’t eat the same thing every day, as well as the toppings. For example, one day we’ll have cinnamon toast and apples, and another day peanut butter toast and bananas.
You can get really creative here, but personally I stick with cheap and quick.
I’ve found that most kids don’t like grown up people food all of the time! We have tacos now and then because the kids like those, but meatloaf, meatballs, pork chops, fish fillets, etc. don’t cut it with them, plus they’re more expensive.
I stick with kid-approved foods and always serve a protein, carb, fruit, and veggie. Some of our regular lunches include:
- Peanut butter sandwich and yogurt
- Spaghetti and string cheese
- Chicken nuggets and rolls
- Fish sticks and egg noodles
- Grilled cheese and tomato soup
- Bologna sandwich
- Scrambled eggs and toast
- Shredded chicken breast and tortillas
- Hot dogs and macaroni
→ Pro Tip: I use my air fryer regularly to make chicken nuggets, tater tots, french fries, and fish sticks. It’s awesome because everything gets super crispy just like the oven! But it doesn’t use the oil or mess of a deep fryer, and doesn’t heat the house like the oven. Plus, it’s quicker than the oven, which means we can play outside longer before having to cook.
I don’t serve dinner at my daycare. If you do, feel free to get a little more creative with your meals. Serve a meal your family enjoys. Just make sure to add some fruits and vegetables so everyone gets their nutrients!
I plan snacks last because I want to make sure I’m not serving the same things all day long.
For example, if you have apples for breakfast you won’t want to offer apples and peanut butter at snack. Or if you have string cheese for lunch, you won’t want to offer cheese and crackers for snack.
For snack, give something from 2 of the food groups. Sometimes you might have to get creative so that there’s at least 1 option you know all of the kids will eat.
Again, you can keep it cheap here by offering cheaper items, and using things left over from other meals or things you already have on hand – if you have yogurt during the week with lunch you can use what’s left in the container for a snack a different day.
My common snack combinations are:
- Cheese and crackers
- Graham crackers and raisins
- Yogurt and pretzels
- Apples and peanut butter
- Milk and cookies (not every week!)
- Grapes and yogurt
- Graham crackers and apple juice
- Crackers and a fruit or veggie
Don’t get into handing out cups of juice and bowls of goldfish all day every time someone asks. If you do, you’ll just be wasting the meals you do prepare because they’ll be full already at lunchtime.
Plus, you’ll be spending more money on snack foods that are less nutritious. Set a specific snack time and stick to it.
Keep Your Meal Plans Simple
It’s okay to repeat a meal. I’d love to say I have a great way to get kids to eat everything healthy, but I don’t. We have the same kinds of snacks and the same kinds of breakfasts and lunches every week.
Now, don’t feed them PB&J every day of the week. But from week to week there doesn’t have to be a ton of variation.
Just switching up fruits and vegetables to whatever is in season is variation enough and you can mostly stick with the proteins and carbs they like. Heck, fitness meal preppers basically do the same thing and they still getting all their nutrients that way! So the same principles are fine for the kids.
I always serve the same portion sizes to every kid, whether they typically eat that fruit or veggie or not. Some day, they may decide they like it!
Sometimes I do serve new foods and ask everyone to try it. But I don’t regularly serve steamed broccoli or carrots because my kids don’t like them. I’m also not cooking a turkey breast or steak for them to spit it back out and throw it away!
Stick with what they like and make it as healthy as possible. For example, we have chicken nuggets regularly, but I bake them or air fry them instead of deep frying them and limit their portion sizes.
Also, I don’t add butter to their vegetables if they’ll eat them without. And juice and sugary items like pop tarts and cookies should be special treats.
And serve milk at every meal, but not in between. Serving milk all day long gets expensive, and fills their bellies with liquid instead of a variety of foods and nutrients.
Shop for Your Meal Plan
Make a list. Go through your meal plan and write down everything you’re going to need to make your meals. If you don’t, you’ll get to the store and are sure to forget something you need (been there, done that).
Shop your pantry. This is a step I have a habit of skipping. Then I can’t remember what I have on hand and I end up with 3 boxes of fish sticks in the freezer and 3 boxes of graham crackers and sooooo many apples.
So shop the pantry first! It’ll save you money and energy in the long run. When you throw away those fish sticks because they are freezer burned or the apples because they are rotten, you’ll wish you had shopped your pantry first.
And shop at Aldi. If you don’t already, start shopping at Aldi! You do have to take your own bags and you’ll need a quarter for the shopping cart. And some items they just don’t have and you’ll still need to run elsewhere sometimes – but you’ll spend way less!
Plus, the environment is less stressful for me and I spend way less time and money shopping there for my regular groceries.
I also try to divide my cart in half when I’m shopping, so I can easily check out my family’s things on one order and daycare’s things on a separate order. Not everyone does it this way, but I prefer it.
→ I go into more depth about my money system in my post How to Manage Your Money When You Have a Home Daycare.
P.S. I LOVE these plates!
They’re so easy to clean up, they’re indestructible, microwavable, dishwasher safe, they’re divided so foods don’t touch, deep enough to hold soup, and the small divisions are 1/2 cup so I know how much fruit and veggies I’m serving. And, unlike other mismatched children’s plates, they stack perfectly in my cupboard!
You can get them from Amazon here. I also have the bowls and silverware and love them too! I usually use the bowls for our afternoon snack, as well as breakfast cereal. Plus, they’re made from recycled milk jugs. How cool is that? I’m seriously amazed by how sturdy these are and how well these have held up over years of daycare.
What do you think of my meal planning tips? Do you have anything to add? Please comment below!
Easily Teach Your Kids About Kitchen Safety!
This PDF file includes 3 Worksheets and 2 Activities:
♥ 1 Instruction and Ideas for Use Page
♥ 1 Search and Find Worksheet
♥ 1 Draw and Write Worksheet
♥ 1 Is It Safe? Worksheet
♥ 2 pages of labels (1 “Safe”, 1 “Unsafe”)
♥ 1 page sorting activity
You can find out more about how I use this pack with my own class in this post!