When I first opened my childcare home in 1997 I chose to provide all meals and snacks for the children. Each week I planned and shopped for that week’s menu. Most of the food was cut up and prepared early in the morning before the children arrived. Many of the lunch items were cooked or reheated in the oven which enabled me to pop them in the oven before we went outside and like magic they were ready when we came in for lunch. This method allowed me to focus all my attention on the children during the day but added an average of 12 hours to my work week – outside the 55 hours the daycare was open.
Colleagues often asked me why I still provided lunch – most licensed facilities did not. Parents were delighted that I chose to but after discussing the issues with them they agreed to a trial period of parent provided lunches. I still provided milk to drink and raw vegetables with dip as a supplement for all lunches to ensure those food groups were not left out.
The first week I didn’t have to plan and prepare lunches ahead of time I was thrilled to have much more ‘extra’ time. I was able to spend a lot more time planning activities instead of meals. Surprisingly the raw vegetables were a real hit. Unfortunately there were also many drawbacks. Bagged lunches became repetitive and boring. Much of the food being sent could not be considered nutritious. Hurried parents resorted to picking up a sub or ‘egg thing’ from a fast food restaurant on their way to daycare. Picky eaters quit eating lunch almost entirely. A vast amount of food was being wasted or sent back home and some children complained they were still hungry after lunch.
The worst thing about this whole experience was that time I spent storing, unpacking, heating, and repacking seven individual lunches added up to as much as two whole hours of our day. Lunch related tasks that I had previously done in the morning before the children arrived now had to be done when they were here — time I would normally have spent on more constructive activities with the children. I never had time to sit down with the children at lunch and I sometimes skipped lunch completely because there was not enough time for me to prepare my own food. There was no way this could be considered an improvement for any of us.
After only two months I went back to providing lunches for the children. To address my issue of time spent planning meals I chose to write a four week revolving menu. There was a pattern – Mondays are ‘miscellaneous’ meals like tomato soup & pizza bread, Tuesday’s are sandwich meals, Wednesdays are casserole meals, Thursday’s are hot sandwich meals like chili buns, and Fridays are meat & potato meals. All of the meals are quick and easy and many of them can be prepared ahead of time and frozen until the day they were needed.
This has worked well for all of us but except for a few minor changes the menu has remained the same for several years but the children and I are getting tired of many of the items. Over the next few months I plan to try out a few ‘new’ recipes and get feedback from the children. As always, I won’t expect everyone to like everything – that never happens – but majority rules. By the New Year I hope to have a completely revamped menu. The menu favourites will be posted on the blog too so stay tuned as we begin our culinary experiment.