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Menu planning guidelines for long day care

The Menu planning guidelines for long day care assist your long day care centre to plan a nutritious and balanced menu for 1–5 year old children.

The guidelines specify the minimum number of children’s serves from each food group that should be provided to 1–5 year old children each day in long day care.

They also contain recommendations for feeding infants under 12 months of age.

The Menu planning guidelines for long day care are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and are consistent with the recommendations in the Australian Government’s Get Up & Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood.

Following the guidelines will also help your long day care service towards achieving:

​​Download the Menu planning guidelines for long day care (PDF 708.61 KB)

 

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In May 2020, we added extra criteria to provide clear advice on using the following ingredients on long day care menus:
 

  • added sugar
  • added fats and oils
  • sauces and condiments that are high in salt
  • spreads, such as Vegemite and jam
  • and ingredients to NOT include on the menu, such as deep fried and processed meats.

 

The updated Menu planning guidelines for long day care (PDF 708.61 KB) are out now (18 May 2020), and will come into effect on FoodChecker from late July 2020.

 

 

Read the Frequently asked questions.

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Morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea

 

Breakfast and late snack

Overall menu

 

Summary

In general:

  • Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea should provide 1–5 year old children with around half of their recommended daily intake from the five ‘core’ food groups (as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines and Australia Guide to Healthy Eating):
    • fruit
    • vegetables and legumes
    • grain (cereal) foods
    • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives
    • lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
       
  • Sources of added fat, sugar and salt should be limited.
     
  • Water should be the main drink provided.
     
  • Menus that include breakfast and/or a late afternoon snack will need to offer additional foods and drinks based on the five core food groups.
     
  • The guidelines also provide recommendations for feeding children under 12 months of age, and guidance on catering for food variety, allergies, and more.

 

Find out more about the five core food groups at https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/five-food-groups

 

*Children’s serves

A ‘children’s serve’ refers to the portion of food that is appropriate for children aged 1–5 years. To be practical for a childcare setting, ‘children’s serves’ are an adaptation of the standard ‘serve sizes’ in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

 

 

Overall menu

Grain (cereal) foods

Offer 2 children’s serves of grain (cereal) foods per child per day.

One children’s serve of grain (cereal) foods is equal to one serve in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This is equivalent to:

  • 40g bread (1 slice, ½ medium roll or flatbread, 1 crumpet or 0.5 an English muffin)
  • 30g breakfast cereal flakes (⅔ cup), 2 Weetbix™ or similar, ⅓ cup oats
  • 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/corn cakes, 12 plain rice crackers)
  • 75g (½ medium) potato (can be counted as grain food if menu meets minimum vegetable requirements).
     

Include high fibre (wholemeal and wholegrain) varieties at least 3 times per week, preferably every day.
 

Tip sheet: Grainy goodies for kids

 

Vegetables

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 of leafy greens
  • 75g (½ medium) potato
  • 30g dry weight beans or legumes or 75g (½ cup) cooked or canned beans or legumes.

** Some hard vegetables may need to be cooked, mashed, grated, pureed or very finely sliced to prevent choking.

Offer a variety of vegetables and/or legumes; at least 2–3 different types per day, and 5 different types per week.

Tip sheet: Making veggies fun for kids

 

Fruit

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 in natural juice (drained), frozen fruit
  • 15g dried fruit.

*** Some hard fruit may need to be cooked, mashed, grated, pureed or very finely sliced to prevent choking.
 

Offer a variety of fruit: at least 2–3 different types per day, and 5 different types per week.
 

Limit dried fruit to once per week.

Dried fruit and fruit juice are a concentrated source of sugar which leaves a sticky residue on teeth and can contribute to tooth decay. Fruit juice should not be offered as a drink.
 

Tip sheet: Fruity fun snacks for kids

 

Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives

Offer 2 children’s serves of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/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****
  • 50ml evaporated milk
  • 15g milk powder
  • 100ml custard
  • 80g yoghurt
  • 15g hard cheese (1 slice)
  • 50g ricotta cheese.

Cream, sour cream and butter are not substitutes for milk, yoghurt and cheese.

****Cow’s milk alternatives such as soy/rice/oat products must be fortified with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml.
 

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/or alternatives should be used for children less than 2 years of age. Reduced fat milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives are suitable for children over 2 years of age. Skim varieties and sugar sweetened flavoured milk must not be provided.
 

Tip sheet: Menu ideas and tips for milk and alternatives

 

Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans

Offer 1 children’s serve of lean meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian alternatives per child per day.

One children’s serve of lean meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian 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
  • 1 egg
  • 85g tofu
  • 60g hummus
  • 15g nuts or nut butter or nuts (if centre policy allows)
     

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 short cut 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. An example of a major ingredient is ham sandwiches. An example of a minor ingredient is diced ham in a zucchini slice.

Refer to Discretionary food and drinks for the types of processed meats that don’t meet the Menu planning guidelines for long day care.
 

Tip sheet: Tasty ways to include meat and alternatives

 

Vegetarian meals

Include vegetarian meals on the menu at least once per fortnight for (preferably 2 times)

Vegetarian meals should include:

  • a food containing protein, such as eggs, legumes (e.g. chickpeas), milk, yoghurt, cheese, soy products (e.g. tofu) or nuts (if centre policy allows)

AND

  • a food containing iron (if not already included), such as spinach, legumes (e.g. chickpeas), baked beans, peas, tofu, eggs, or broccoli

AND

  • vegetables high in vitamin C (to enhance iron absorption by the body), such as capsicum, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, sweet potato, raw tomato, or green beans.

 

Tip sheet: Four steps to a healthy vegetarian meal

 

Morning and afternoon tea

Morning tea and afternoon tea should be planned and documented on the menu.
 

Foods and drinks served at morning and afternoon tea must be nutritious and based on choices from the five core food groups.

These may include yoghurt, cheese, milk-based custard, eggs, legumes (e.g. baked beans), healthy dips (e.g. hummus), fruit, vegetables, wholegrain bread items, crispbread which are lower in fat and salt, and baked items.
 

Baked items for morning tea and afternoon tea should not be provided every day.

These include savoury and sweet cakes, scones, muffins, loaves and slices.

Baked items must be low in added sugars and oils, and preferably include some fruit and/or vegetables and wholemeal flour.
 

Baked items should contain 5g or less of added sugar per serve

Added sugars include brown sugar, caster sugar, icing sugar, raw sugar, white sugar, coconut sugar, golden syrup, honey or rice malt syrup.
 

Tip sheet: Snack ideas: Morning and afternoon tea

 

 

Breakfast and late snack

Long day care menus that include breakfast and/or a late afternoon snack should offer nutritious foods and drinks from the five core food groups.

The number of serves per food group is not counted for breakfast and late snack.

 

Breakfast

If breakfast is provided it should include the following food groups:

  • grain (cereal) foods, and
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives.
     

Wholemeal and/or wholegrain choices should be provided every day at breakfast.
 

Breakfast cereals should be low in added sugars.
This means 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.
 

Tip sheet: Breakfast ideas for outside school hours care

 

Late snack

An extra snack should be provided for children attending 8 or more hours in care. Late snack should be documented on the menu.
 

Foods and drinks offered for late snack should be nutritious and based on choices from the five food groups:

  • fruit
  • vegetables and legumes
  • grain (cereal) foods
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives
  • lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans

 

 

Overall menu

Discretionary food and drinks

Some foods and drinks cannot be included in the daily menu.

These are called ‘discretionary’ foods and drinks. Discretionary foods and drinks provide little health benefits as they can be high in saturated/trans fat, added sugar, added salt, and/or they are heavily processed.

Examples of discretionary foods and drinks:

  • chocolate, confectionary, jelly
  • high fat/high salt commercially made savoury biscuits, chips, crackers
  • high sugar/high fat sweet and savoury baked items such as muffins, cakes, loaves and non-baked slices
  • cream, ice cream, sour cream, commercially made frozen yoghurts
  • pastry based foods such as pies, pinwheels, pasties and sausage rolls
  • fatty meats such as sausages, frankfurts/hot dogs, salami, Strasburg, Devon, some commercial chicken nuggets and fish fingers
  • soft drinks, fruit juice and fruit drinks, cordial, sports drinks, sports waters, flavoured waters, flavoured mineral waters, iced teas and energy drinks
  • shallow or deep-fried foods such as chips, fish, tempura vegetables, falafels
  • fast food and takeaway foods

 

Tip sheet: What to keep off the menu

 

Drinks

Water should be 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. Skim milk must not be provided.

Refer to Discretionary food and drinks (above) for a list of drinks that don’t meet the Menu planning guidelines for long day care.

 

Fats and oils

Use monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated oils and spreads in cooking and baking.

Suitable options include olive, canola, peanut, sesame, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils.

Avoid palm, cottonseed and coconut oils or oil blends that contain these, as well as cream, sour cream, butter, copha, ghee and lard.
 

Limit fats and oils to 10g/ml (2 teaspoons) or less of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils/spreads per child per day.

 

Salt

Salt should not be added to cooking or be available at the table.

Swap salt for healthier options such as herbs, spices, seeds, citrus, peppers and pungent foods such as mustards, wasabi and horseradish. Using a variety of cooking techniques also enhances the flavour of food. Examples include grilling, roasting, steaming, stir frying and sautéing.
 

Select ‘low salt’, ‘reduced salt’ or ‘no added salt’ packaged products.

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).
 

Limit sauces very high in salt to less than 5g/ml per serve per child.

Sauces such as soy or fish sauce, curry paste, regular tomato sauce and even some pasta sauces are very high in salt and can be harmful in large amounts, especially for young children. Choose reduced salt options and use in small amounts.

Consider making sauces yourself without adding salt, and using herbs and spices instead.

 

Spreads

Salty and sweet spreads should be used sparingly and not offered every day.

Salty and sweet spreads can include jams and marmalades, honey, nut butters and Vegemite™ or Marmite™. These foods are high in added sugar, salt and/or fat, and reduce the opportunity to offer healthier options from the five foods groups.

Replace these spreads with nutritious alternatives such as cheese (ricotta, cottage, cream cheese, tasty or feta), natural yoghurt, fresh fruit and/or vegetables and vegetable or dairy based dips.
 

Tip sheet: Spreads and toppings

 

Food allergies and intolerances

Children with food allergies and intolerances must be provided with suitable alternatives to foods and drinks that are not tolerated.
 

A statement about offering allergy friendly alternatives must be documented on the menu.

For example, “Children with food allergies and intolerances are provided with suitable nutritious alternatives”.
 

Further information on common food allergies and intolerances.

 

Food variety

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).

 

Feeding infants under 12 months of age

 

Breast milk, infant formula and cooled boiled tap water should be the only drinks provided to children until 12 months of age.
 

A variety of age-appropriate solid foods should be offered from around 6 months old. 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 nutritious foods that contain iron each day.

Examples include 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 every day for infants that are eating solids.
 

Tip sheet: Menu planning for babies in childcare

 

 

 

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