As a child care provider who participates in CACFP, I've learned a lot about nutrition and believe in fully supporting wellness in early childhood education setting. I routinely serve homemade and healthy meals for child care but there's always room to grow and new recipes to try!
Last week I tried a cycle menu and recipes from the CACFP Meal Planning Guide. The guide is intended to serve as a practical, how-to guide for meal planning at your child care home or center. I used the Summer Week Three Meal Pattern on page 84.
AM Snack: Wheat Chex, Blueberries & 1% Milk
Preparation/Notes: This is very similar to what I often serve for breakfast/AM snack so this went over fairly well. I often buy Rice Chex or Corn Chex, so this cereal was not questioned. Some children like to pour milk over their cereal and eat it with a spoon but some prefer to eat it dry, with their fingers. I allow the children to pour the milk from their cup into their bowls if they want. If they need more milk to drink, they can have it.
Reaction: No major response from my group. As usual, some children ate it and some did not.
Lunch: Catch of the Day, Zucchini & Summer Squash, Brown Rice & Milk
Preparation/Notes: Making the fish was quick and easy. I spread Dijon mustard over tilapia fillets and sprinkled on crushed bran cereal flakes. Sautéing the zucchini and summer squash is also a breeze. I added Tastefully Simple Garlic Garlic seasoning. I decided to serve the zucchini and summer squash together as the vegetable along with red grapes for a fruit serving, as I knew some children would not eat the vegetables. I used a quick cooking brown rice and prepared it in the microwave.
Reaction: Overall, the bran flakes on the fish didn't go over well. Some scraped the bran off and ate the fish. Some didn't eat it at all. A couple enjoyed the zucchini and squash and even asked for more. Plain brown rice was no issue - most kids like it. Regarding the fish: I felt the bran added a "sweet" flavor almost and of course crunch. I understand the bran adds some whole grain. I didn't feel it was a great recipe. My group eats fish very well when I cook it in a little olive oil and Wild Tree Scampi seasoning. I will continue to do that.
PM Snack: Honeydew Melon, Rice Cakes & Water
Preparation/Notes: I served Apple Cinnamon flavored Rice cakes.
Reaction: Some of the children asked what the "green stuff" was. We often have "orange melon" (cantaloupe) so I explained this is "green melon" or honeydew. They were happy with this and most ate it. It was a really nice sweet melon so it went over well. Most like the rice cakes as well.
AM Snack: Banana-Rama Breakfast, 1% Milk
Preparation/Notes: I made the Banana- Rama Breakfast on whole wheat bread since I realized the recipe asked for a whole grain English muffin. When I was at the store, I forgot to go back and get the whole grain muffins.
Reaction: The children were not sure about this. It was different but it did smell good because of the cinnamon sugar I sprinkled on top. Some tried it. It was hard to eat and messy. English muffins may have been neater to eat but sometimes they are really chewy and children may have a hard time biting off pieces with all the toppings. I thought it tasted pretty good but the kids were not impressed.
Lunch: Limemade Chicken, Sweet Summer Salad, Kiwi, Whole Wheat bread, 1% Milk
Preparation/Notes: The chicken marinade is easy. I used bottled lime juice. Unfortunately, I over baked the chicken so it was dry. Usually I put chicken breast in a pan on the stove or use my George Foreman Grill. That would have been better than baking it in the oven. For the salad, I bought pre-shredded cabbage mixed with carrots. I did add more shredded carrots.
Reaction: The chicken passed (I did serve it with Ranch for dipping). The flavor was really light and overall wasn't worth marinating in my opinion. The cabbage salad was absolutely a no-go. One child at a few bites and said she liked it. Most wouldn't touch it. Some at the apples out of it. I tasted it and thought it was okay, but I wouldn't make it again. Some in my group like kiwi, some do not.
PM Snack: Cucumber & String Cheese
These are two items I normally serve at snack time so it went over fairly well. I did offer whole grain crackers (after allowing them time to eat what I already offered) as well because some wouldn't eat both options so it wasn't much food. The youngest one, 18 months, won't eat the cucumbers or string cheese and looks at me, saying "cracker".
AM Snack: Alpha Bits Cereal, Orange Slices, 1% Milk
Preparation/Notes: I never buy Alpha Bits cereal so this was something new for snack. I buy whole oranges but it's been a while. I was concerned the oranges wouldn't be very good this time of year, but they were very juicy and flavorful.
Reaction: The children really enjoyed the Alpha Bits. Some have had them at home. Others were drawn to the Super Why character on the box. They recognized letters in their bowl - an added benefit! Again, some pour their milk over their cereal and some do not. Some children are not sure how to eat oranges (or have forgotten) with peels on but I show them and most think it's fun. Peels could also be removed.
Lunch: Use Your Noodle Bake, Watermelon, Peas, 1% Milk
Preparation/Notes: I was really looking forward to making and trying this recipe. It required quite a few ingredients. I thought the recipe called for summer squash and our store was out so I didn't have that. Then I got home and realized the recipe asked for winter squash and I didn't have that either... In order to keep the consistency correct, I cooked some potatoes and mashed them as a substitute. I realize the winter squash would have added more color. I'm not sure the flavor would have been much different. Needed salt.
Reaction: The children overall were not impressed. I felt it was okay. It was very filling due to all the beans, veggies and whole grain pasta! The texture of this dish was a little dry. If it was creamier, I think it would better. Maybe it was my substitutions and variations that caused it to be dry? Or maybe it's the recipe? I'm not sure. I do know, it's a great idea to load up mac and cheese with veggies. I was a bit concerned about northern beans in there but I hardly knew they were in there and the kids didn't either. I don't think the whole grain pasta is an issue or the vegetables. The dry, grainy texture was the problem.
PM Snack: Fruit-astic Salsa, Pita Wedges, Water
Preparation/Notes: I kind of messed this one up. I bought mangos to add to the salad, but they weren't quite ripe yet. Totally forgot about using strawberries in it! So we had peaches. I didn't take the time to try toasting pita bread to make pita chips and just served graham crackers instead.
Reaction: Most did not want the peaches. It has skin on it, you know. I think a lot of kids don't know what fresh peaches are unfortunately. All wanted more graham crackers. Disappointing.
AM Snack: Whole Grain Mini Bagel, Strawberries, 1% Milk
This is a normal type of snack for us so it went over well. Most in my group will eat fresh strawberries.
Lunch: Veggin' Out Stew, Grilled Cheese on Whole Grain Bread, Mixed Fruit, Milk
Preparation/Notes: Mmm, I looked forward to making this soup recipe and it smelled so good. Instead of starting with bullion and water, I used a boxed organic vegetable broth from Aldi's. It was very good! I didn't have summer squash so I used zucchini. A good substitution.
Reaction: One child tried the soup and said she liked it but really she just tasted it. No one ate it except me. And the soup was really good! I will make it for my family.
PM Snack: Cantaloupe and Whole Grain Crackers
This is a normal snack for my group. Usually they really like cantaloupe but today, they were all about the Wheat Thins.
AM Snack: Whole Grain Waffle, Pears, 1% Milk
This is also a normal snack for us. I'll be honest, the waffle wasn't whole grain. I usually make my own and they are but this time I just bought regular frozen waffles.
Lunch: Hip-Hop Pita Pocket, Apple Slices, Pepper Slices, 1% Milk
Preparation/Notes: After a week of using the cycle menu with new recipes, I decided to keep it simple today. I served the scrambled eggs with cheese in a pita pocket (with a little butter inside because it's so dry). I served the pepper slices on the side.
Reaction: Most liked the idea of the pita pocket. It's been a while since we've had them. Kids like to make their own Pita Pocket sandwiches. A couple of my kids do not like scrambled eggs so they dumped them out and ate the pita. Several of my kids love peppers and ate them all and asked for seconds. No Ranch dressing even. Pepper Tasting is a great activity to introduce peppers to kids, which really has helped my group learn to like them.
PM Snack: Smoothilicious & Graham Cracker
Preparation/Notes: I made a variation of this recipe as well. I made smoothies out of Greek yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, banana and milk. We've made fruit/yogurt/cereal parfaits in the past and they are very popular too.
Reaction: The smoothies went over very well. Straws are always a hit! A great Friday afternoon treat!
What I Learned
As a provider, I challenged myself to try different recipes. I used white beans for the first time (I do serve black beans). I used more veggies than ever. There was a big focus on whole grains. Overall, I feel my regular child care meals are very healthy. I feel these CACFP menus and recipes are ultra-healthy. It's not a bad thing - it just will take some time to incorporate more of these recipes, foods and practices.
Often kids look at their plate and say "yuck" before they even try it. It's disheartening. Unfortunately adults do the same thing. Attitudes about feeding children and eating in general are changing and these changes start with the adults.
Introducing new foods and dishes slowly helps the children adjust to new foods and habits. My group took to this experience very well, giving me thumbs up/thumbs down on their own about what they thought. They bravely tried new foods along with me and were open to listening to me explain how healthy and yummy these foods are.
It is my purpose to continue to feed children healthy foods and offer a bigger variety. Check out the CACFP Meal Planning Guide and find something new and healthy to try!
Stacy Ransom is a licensed family child care provider in Wisconsin. She has been providing care and Early Childhood Education in her home for about 12 years. She believes in encouraging creativity, offering quality play experiences and most importantly, meeting the needs of each child while encouraging growth and development. Visit Share & Remember for ideas and resources for preschoolers.