Menu planning guidelines for long day care
The Healthy Eating Advisory Service’s Menu planning guidelines for long day care will help you plan a menu that provides the right balance of foods that children need each day for optimal growth and development.
The Menu planning guidelines are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and are consistent with recommendations from the Australian Government’s Get Up & Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood. Following the Menu planning guidelines will help your service work towards meeting the requirements of the National Quality Framework.
If your centre already has a menu, you can use the Menu planning guidelines to check that the menu meets children’s nutrition needs.
Tip: Use our online menu assessment tool, FoodChecker, to see if your current menu meets the guidelines, and to plan your next one.
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How to use the guidelines
The Menu planning guidelines for long day care assist with menu planning for long day care centres where morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea are provided. A menu that includes morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea should provide children aged 1–5 years with half of their daily nutrition requirements. Services that provide breakfast and/or a late afternoon snack will need to offer additional food.
The Menu planning guidelines specify the minimum number of children’s serves of each food group that should be provided to 1-5 year old children each day in care. A children’s serve refers to the portion of food appropriate for children aged 1–5 years. To be practical in the childcare setting, these serve sizes have been adapted from the adult serve sizes in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Detailed information about children’s serve sizes is outlined at What’s in a serve?.
For easy reference these guidelines have been summarised into a Menu planning checklist for long day care.
If you have any queries, please contact the Healthy Eating Advisory Service on 1300 22 52 88 or email us.
Offer 1 children’s serve of lean meat, poultry, fish or alternatives per child per day.
One children’s serve of lean meat, poultry, fish or alternatives is equal to half a serve in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This is equivalent to:
- 50g raw lean red meat (e.g. beef, lamb, kangaroo), lean pork or poultry (e.g. chicken) without the bone
- 30g lean cooked red meat
- 40g cooked poultry (skin off)
- 60g raw fish or 50g canned or cooked fish
- 35g dry weight beans or legumes or 85g (½ cup) cooked or canned (drained) beans or legumes
- 15g peanut butter or nuts (if centre policy allows)
- 1 egg
- 20g dry weight Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
- 85g tofu
- 60g hummus
Lean red meat should be served 4 times per fortnight, lean pork or poultry 2 times per fortnight and fish 1–2 times per fortnight (preferably 2).
Lean ham or lean bacon may be included on the menu once or twice per week (either once as a major ingredient in a meal and once as a minor ingredient in a meal, or twice as a minor ingredient in a meal).
Other processed meats should not be included on the menu. This includes sausages, sausage mince, frankfurts, hot dogs, cabana, salami, strasburg, devon, middle bacon and some commercial chicken and fish products.
Include vegetarian meals on the menu at least once per fortnight for variety.
Vegetarian meals should include:
- a food containing protein: eggs, legumes (e.g. chickpeas), milk, yoghurt, cheese, soy products (e.g. tofu) or nuts (if centre policy allows)
- a food containing iron (if not already included): spinach, legumes (e.g. chickpeas), baked beans, peas, tofu, eggs and broccoli
- a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C (to enhance iron absorption by the body) such as capsicum, broccoli, kiwifruit, Brussels sprouts, paw paw, cauliflower, orange, mandarin, berries, cabbage, cantaloupe, frozen mixed vegetables, broad beans, spinach, sweet potato, potato, pineapple, cherries, raw tomato, zucchini, peas and green beans.
Offer 1 children’s serve of fruit* per child per day.
One children’s serve of fruit is equal to half a serve in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This is equivalent to:
- 75g fresh fruit (1 small piece, ½ medium piece or equivalent amount of 2-3 types)
- 75g (½ cup) diced, cooked or canned (drained) fruit
- 15g dried fruit.
A variety of fruit should be provided, at least 2–3 different types per day and 5 different types per week.
Dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugar which leaves a sticky residue on teeth and can contribute to tooth decay. If included on the menu it should be offered no more than once per week.
Fruit juice is also a concentrated source of sugar and should not be offered as a drink.
* Some hard fruit may need to be cooked, mashed, grated, pureed or very finely sliced to prevent choking.
Offer 1–1½ children’s serves of vegetables* and legumes/beans per child per day.
One children’s serve of vegetables and legumes/beans is equal to one serve in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This is equivalent to:
- 75g fresh, frozen, canned (drained) or cooked vegetables (½ cup cooked, 1 cup salad, 1/2 medium potato)
- 30g dry weight beans or legumes or 75g (½ cup) cooked or canned beans or legumes.
A variety of vegetables and/or legumes should be provided, at least 2–3 different types per day and 5 different types per week.
* Some hard vegetables may need to be cooked, mashed, grated, pureed or very finely sliced to prevent choking.
Offer 2 children’s serves of milk, yoghurt, cheese or calcium fortified alternatives per child per day.
One children’s serve of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives is equal to just under half a serve in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This is equivalent to:
- 100mL milk/calcium fortified soy drink
- 50mL evaporated milk
- 15g milk powder
- 100mL custard
- 80g yoghurt/calcium fortified soy yoghurt
- 15g hard cheese (1 slice), 50g ricotta cheese.
Cream, sour cream and butter are not substitutes for milk, yoghurt and cheese.
It is recommended that milk is offered as a drink at morning tea and/or afternoon tea every day.
Full fat varieties of milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives should be used for children less than 2 years of age. Reduced fat milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives are suitable for children over the age of 2 years.
Ensure alternative products such as soy drinks and soy yoghurt are calcium fortified (with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100mL).
Flavoured milk is not an appropriate drink for young children and should not be included in the daily menu.
Offer 2 children’s serves of grain (cereal) foods per child per day. Include high fibre (wholemeal and wholegrain) varieties at least 3 times per week, preferably every day.
One children’s serve of grain (cereal) food is equivalent to:
- 40g bread (1 slice, ½ medium roll or flatbread)
- 1 crumpet or small English muffin
- 30g breakfast cereal flakes (⅔ cup), 2 Weetbix™ or similar, ¼ cup muesli or porridge
- 30g dry weight rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, barley, buckwheat, semolina, cornmeal, quinoa, polenta (½ cup cooked)
- 30g flour (¼ cup)
- 35g crispbread (3–4 cracker biscuits or crispbread , 3 thick rice cakes, 6 thin rice cakes or corn thins, 12 plain rice crackers).
Some foods and drinks should not be included in the daily menu. These items are generally high in saturated fat, added sugar and/or added salt and are low in fibre, and typically have little nutritional value.
Examples of foods and drinks which should not be included in the daily menu are:
- chocolate, confectionery, jelly
- sweet biscuits, high fat/salt savoury biscuits, chips
- high sugar/high fat cakes and slices
- cream, ice cream
- deep fried foods (e.g. hot chips) and pastry based foods (pies, sausage rolls and pasties)
- most fast food and takeaway foods
- some processed meats (e.g. sausages, frankfurts/hot dogs, salami, strasburg, devon, some commercial chicken nuggets and fish fingers)
- sweet drinks such as soft drinks, fruit juice and fruit drinks, cordial, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavoured milk and flavoured mineral water, iced teas and energy drinks.
Use mostly polyunsaturated (e.g. sunflower, safflower) and/or monounsaturated (e.g. canola, olive, peanut, sunflower, soybean, sesame) oils and spreads in cooking and baking.
Avoid palm, cottonseed and coconut oils or oil blends that contain these, as well as cream, sour cream, butter, copha, ghee and lard.
Salt should not be added to cooking or be available at the table.
Salt is often added to foods that are processed (e.g. some breakfast cereals and bread), preserved (e.g. tuna in brine, smoked goods, ham) or cooked in salty solutions (e.g. some sauces or stocks) or foods that have flavours added (e.g. some savoury biscuits and pasta sauces).
When selecting packaged foods, choose ‘low salt’, ‘reduced salt’ or ‘no added salt’ products.
Use herbs and spices to enhance the flavour of meals.
If breakfast is provided it should be based on grains (breads and cereals) as well as milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives.
At least one wholemeal or wholegrain choice should be provided every day at breakfast.
Breakfast cereals should be low in added sugars (less than 15g of sugar per 100g if dried fruit is not an ingredient, or less than 25g per 100g if dried fruit is an ingredient).
Fruits and vegetables are also good choices to include at breakfast.
Morning tea and afternoon tea should be planned and documented on the menu.
Foods and drinks included at morning tea and afternoon tea should be nutritious and based on choices from the five food groups. These may include milk based custard, yoghurt, cheese, eggs, legumes (e.g. baked beans), healthy dips (e.g. hummus), fruit, vegetables, bread, crackers and crispbread which are lower in fat and salt and baked items such as pikelets, scones and muffins which use some wholemeal flour and are lower in sugar and fat.
Baked items should not be provided every day. If provided, they should not contain large amounts of fat and sugar and should preferably include some fruit or vegetables and wholemeal flour.
An extra snack is recommended for children attending eight or more hours in care. If you offer a late snack it should be documented on the menu.
Foods and drinks included at late snack should be nutritious and based on choices from the five food groups.
Water is offered at all meals and is available freely throughout the day.
Plain milk is another healthy drink option for children. Full-fat milk should be given to children under the age of 2 years. Reduced-fat milk is suitable for children over 2 years of age.
Sugar sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, cordial, sports drinks, sports waters, flavoured waters, flavoured mineral waters, iced teas and energy drinks should not be included on the menu.
Flavoured milk and fruit juice are not appropriate drinks for young children and should not be included in the daily menu.
Breast milk, infant formula and cooled boiled tap water should be the only drinks provided to infants until 12 months of age.
From around 6 months a variety of age-appropriate solid foods should be offered. Solid foods should be an appropriate texture and consistency for infants’ developmental stages. For ease, modify the regular menu so that it is appropriate for infants.
Include iron containing nutritious foods each day e.g. iron fortified cereals, pureed meat, poultry and fish, cooked mashed tofu, legumes (e.g. chickpeas or lentils) or eggs.
Fruit, vegetables, grains and milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives should also be available for infants every day.
For more information about feeding infants refer to Menu planning for babies.
Children with allergies should be provided with suitable alternatives to foods and drinks that are not tolerated.
This should be documented on the menu.
For more information about cooking for children with allergies and intolerances refer to http://www.heas.health.vic.gov.au/early-childhood-services/allergy-and-intolerance
The menu should be varied and should meet the social and cultural needs of children. This means that:
- the menu includes a variety of meals from different cultures
- the menu includes a variety of tastes, colours, textures (e.g. crunchy, soft) and flavours
- main meals are not repeated in a two-week menu cycle
- the main ingredient in a meal is not repeated on the same day each week (e.g. fish is not provided every Friday only).