Menu planning guidelines for long day care

Early childhood services Food industry

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.

Why you need to know these guidelines?

Early childhood services play a big role in the health and wellbeing of children in their care. Eating habits are learned from a young age, so by providing and promoting nutritious foods and drinks, you can help children establish positive eating behaviours early.

Who are these guidelines for?

These guidelines are for long day care services that provide foods to children in their care. They can be used by anyone planning menus:

  • Cooks and chefs
  • Centre directors
  • External catering services
  • Nutrition Consultants
  • Health promotion officers

Benefits to providing and promoting healthy foods and drinks while children are in care

  • Helps your service meet the healthy food and drink requirements of the National Quality Framework
  • Supports children’s growth and development, mental wellbeing, and oral health. Children will learn better and be more alert when they eat well
  • Reduces children’s risk of developing nutrition-related chronic conditions later in life
  • Engages and supports families to also provide and promote healthy eating at home
  • Supports your service to achieve objectives of other health initiatives such as the Achievement Program or Smiles 4 Miles
  • Helps reduce food wastage

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.

They 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.

Key sections

The Menu planning guidelines includes these key sections:

  • Menu planning guidelines – outlines what to include and what to leave off a healthy menu for long daycare
  • Ingredient quantity guide – helps you work out how much food you’ll need for the number of  children you’re cooking for
  • Menu planning checklist – can be used to check your menu on the spot and identify areas for improvement
  • Suggested resources to support you with your menu planning

Summary of the Menu planning guidelines

  • 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. The five core food groups include:
    • 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 guidance on catering for food variety, allergies, and more.


FoodChecker is an online tool developed to help you review your menus against the Menu planning planning guidelines and get instant feedback and advice to improve your menu.

Learn more

Written and reviewed by dietitians and nutritionists at Nutrition Australia, with support from the Victorian Government.

Nutrition Australia and Victoria State Government logos

Unsure what guidelines apply to you?

Our goal is to empower organisations through expert, innovative and evidence-informed nutrition and healthy eating support.

Send us an Enquiry