Menu planning and food provision
It is important that food and drink provided for children is balanced across each day. It is essential to ensure a healthy balanced diet for all children. It is recommended that new menu cycles are introduced at least twice a year.
Menu planning is a complex process involving consideration of a number of factors such as children's preferences, nutritional needs, cultural and religious beliefs, visual appeal, seasonal availability, staffing levels and budget.
You may wish to change your menus regularly or develop a 3-4 week seasonal menu cycle. Whichever option you prefer, it is important to bear in the mind the overall guidance regarding menu planning each time you change your menu. It is also important to keep records of menu cycles and to build up a folder of your recipes, as this is good practice and provides evidence of what has been served and enjoyed. This evidence can then be used when monitoring your food policy.
Good menu planning provides opportunities for a range of food to be presented to children in a variety of ways, often giving them the chance to try food that they may not have at home, such as exotic fruits or unusual vegetables.
Eating a wide variety of foods will also help to ensure all vitamin and mineral requirements are met. Children have a natural tendency to prefer sweet tasting foods. If children are consistently offered sweet-tasting foods they may reject other tastes.
It's worth offering a wide variety of different foods and also the same foods in different forms. For example, vegetables can be offered raw, cooked, mixed with other foods e.g. included in soups/casseroles, mashed, sliced, roast. It can also help to offer new foods alongside well-known favourites. It is important not to allow a child's initial rejection of a particular food to determine whether that food is offered again.
Research has shown that continued exposure to a food will increase the likelihood that the child will eventually eat it and may need 10-15 tastings before they accept it. It also appears a child needs to have tasted a new food before it will be chosen. This suggests that it is important to encourage children to try and taste of all foods offered at a meal.
A taste can be as small as half a teaspoon. This may be of particular importance if food variety at home is limited. In such a case, carers can often offer a wider choice and may play an important part in encouraging a varied diet.