As stated on my Menu & Recipe page; ‘We have a four week revolving menu. Occasionally I make changes the lunch menu due to the likes and dislikes of the children in care.’
When I make changes to the menu it is usually only one or two items that either the majority of the children dislike or have grown tired of. Sometimes, about every two or three years, I do a complete overhaul of the menu and try a bunch of new recipes.
One of the things I did during the low attendance/quiet period this past spring was to go through all my recipes and pick some new ones that I wanted to add to the menu. Possibly the biggest change I made to the menu was moving Sandwich Day to Wednesday instead of Tuesday but only one of the currently enrolled children seemed to really notice that change.
There were just three lunches that I left on the menu as I feared there may be a riot if I removed them. ‘Taco Pie’, ‘French Toast with Applesauce’, and ‘Fries with Meatloaf’. The children might actually prefer that I paired the meatloaf with something other than fries – for that meal it is the meatloaf they want, not the fries. I still struggle to find potato dishes that the children will eat. Read more about that here.
The completely new four week menu was introduced beginning on the week of June 8th as most of the children were returning. In retrospect I probably should have waited a little longer. My preschoolers may have actually preferred to have some familiar lunches after being away for two months. Also, the school-age children were attending full days now and are generally far more picky eaters than any of my preschoolers – their behavior greatly influences the little ones.
For the first four weeks each day was the same – all the children sitting around the table looking at each other, occasionally poking at or nibbling their food but no one willing to actually take the first real bite. I was eating my food – I always sit with the children and eat the same food that I serve them – modeling. This is the reason the little ones are generally willing to try new things but that strategy is less effective with the older children who have well developed preferences.
Interestingly there were more vegetables eaten during that first menu period – vegetables were familiar – not like the unknown main course menu items. Even once I told them what all the ingredients were they were still hesitant to try the new foods. I found it amusing that one of the school age children, striving to be a good role model for the little ones, would rave about how great the day’s lunch was going to be but would still refuse to eat any citing “I’m just not hungry right now”. LOL – translate to “I only eat sugar”.
The second round of the new menu was slightly more successful. Most of the children at least tried the new items but were still too unsure to have seconds. I was beginning to doubt some of my menu choices – I was finding some of the new recipes a bit too labour intensive. I missed some of my favourites from the old menu. If there was going to be a lot of leftovers I wanted it to be something I really enjoyed 😉
Still, I persevered and the third time the new menu was offered almost all of the children were eating the majority of the meals. Some were consistently asking for seconds. However there were still a few lunches that most of the children were not enthused by and were reluctant to eat. I was a little perplexed by some of the less popular meals – like grilled cheese sandwiches.
Seriously – it has been at least 10 years since the last time I had grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu and the reason I took it off was because it took too long to make enough – we could easily consume 18 or more at lunch – and it is not a menu item that is nice to make ahead and reheat. Yet this group was unimpressed by grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, a total of FIVE sandwiches was most this group of eight children managed to eat in one meal. Some don’t like cheese, some don’t like bread, some don’t like cooked sandwiches. *sigh*
We are now midway through the fourth go-round for this new menu and there are some emerging favourites. There are also some items that continue to be unpopular and may be replaced once I am certain that the majority of the children consistently refuse to eat them. I can’t automatically assume that they don’t like a menu item when it is not a familiar food.
I won’t force them to eat things they don’t want but I also won’t offer them an alternate food item when they refuse to eat what is on their plate. Sometimes they may be too tired, grumpy, or just not hungry – I won’t assume they really don’t like a specific food until it has been offered multiple times and in various forms. Favourite foods are familiar foods.