Menus will typically be developed by the dietary planner and early years administrators. Menus are reviewed by the Ministry of Education Program Advisor and by the Public Health Inspector during their visits to early years programs. They may recommend that a menu is reviewed by a licensed dietitian to ensure all nutritional requirements are being met for the children being served. Children in full day early years programs must be offered at least one meal and two snacks during the day. Children in before and after school programs will be offered an early morning snack and an afternoon snack. Programs for school age children, over the age of 44 months, may require families to provide lunches and snacks for their children. Families need to adhere to any nutritional policies of the organization such as ensuring their child’s food doesn’t contain any allergens such as nuts.
(2) Subject to section 44, every licensee shall ensure that each child one year old or older who receives child care at a child care centre it operates and or at a premises where it oversees the provision of home child care is given food and beverages in accordance with the following rules:
- Where the child is present at meal time, a meal must be supplied and provided by the licensee or provider, except in the case of a child who is 44 months or older.
- Between-meal snacks must be supplied and provided by the licensee or provider, except in the case of a child who is 44 months or older.
- Where a child receives child care for six hours or more, the licensee or provider shall ensure that the total food offered to the child includes, in addition to any meals provided, two snacks.
- Drinking water must be available at all times.
- All meals, snacks and beverages must meet the recommendations set out in the most recent and relevant food guide published by Health Canada. O. Reg. 137/15, s. 42 (2); O. Reg. 254/19, s. 11; O. Reg. 174/21, s. 24 (2-4).
(Ontario Regulation 137/15, under the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014. © King’s Printer for Ontario, 2015)
Read the Ontario Dietitians in Public Health Practical Guide (2017) to support your understanding of healthy eating practices and menu planning for young children in early years settings.
Menus often follow a four to six week rotation and are changed two times per year. Winter and summer menus may be offered to reflect the local foods available in a community. The weekly rotation allows for a wider variety of food to be introduced to children and prevents overserving of the same foods. Fruits and vegetables may be more challenging to purchase in the winter in Ontario so adjustments to the menu may be required for different seasons.
Menus are posted so they are visible to families, with any changes noted daily. Posting the menus with updates allows families and early years administrators to track any illness or allergic reactions in children. Menus should be retained for at least one month in the event public health needs to track what was served during a particular time period due to an outbreak of a food borne illness. Access to menus also allows early years administrators and families to track potential food allergies in the case of a child’s allergic reaction.
Diversity in menus is important for children to feel a sense of belonging. Families are the best resources when developing menus. Families can share information around cultural food practices and traditions they engage in at home. They can also share favourite recipes that can be embedded into the early years setting menu. Dietary planners work with families to learn more about ways to cook and serve new foods. This sparks great conversation amongst educators and children during mealtimes to extend the learning for everyone sharing the learning space.
Read and interact with the following, Chapter 3: Cultural Relevance, from Interpreting Canada’s 2019 Food Guide and Food Labelling For Health Professionals. These considerations are relevant for menu planning in early years settings.