Cooks in Care

The Cooks in Care program is designed to assist child care centre cooks and directors to access evidence-based guidelines in order to prepare healthy, nutritious food for the pre-school children in their care.

Good nutrition is the balanced eating of a variety of foods. The foods we eat should provide our bodies with the nutrients needed to stay healthy. Good nutrition is especially important for children because they need extra nutrients for growth and development. (from Caring for Children page 45)

Menu Planning and Serving Size

Menu planning should be a team effort involving the cook, educators, families and children. Planning menus will help ensure the best food choices are made, meals are varied and preparation is as hassle free as possible.

Planning ahead also means that food availability and food orders can be established. Planning a cyclic menu of at least two weeks is recommended. Less than a two week cyclic menu would make it difficult to include the recommended variety and nutrition. Please contact us for further support with menu planning.

Food Allergies and intolerances

Allergic reactions involve the body’s immune system, producing mild, moderate or severe and sometimes sudden symptoms. Symptoms may include hives, swelling of the lips, face, eyes or tongue, vomiting, wheezing or a rash soon after the food allergen (usually a protein) is touched or ingested. These symptoms have the potential to be life threatening for some children (due to anaphylaxis) and require immediate emergency action to be taken. With planning and communication, services can appropriately manage and prevent anaphylaxis.

Contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian for more information about allergy prevention or if a child already has a diagnosed food allergy that requires a special diet.

Caring for Children Guidelines

NSW Ministry of Health has provided services with this resource. This edition combines Caring for Infants and Caring for Children into one resource to provide practical information to Cooks, Directors and Educators to meet the food and nutritional needs of children birth to 5 years in early education and care services. The resource provides information consistent with the Infant Feeding Guidelines, Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Recipes & Sample Menus

The Caring for Children publication has a number of recipes and sample menus available. Check out Section 3 for recipes, and page 103 for sample menus.

Cultural/Religious Requirements

Many services will have children from a variety of ethnic and religious groups. These children may require different and special diets. If this is the case, talk to the families to make sure that your service will be able to appropriately cater for these children.

Dietary habits and customs vary according to religion, culture and background. They may exclude certain foods, include certain foods or have food prepared in a particular way. They may also include how and when food is eaten. There may be parental expectations in regard to mealtime behaviour. An example could be children serving themselves. This may not be encouraged by some. Discussion with families will generally allow these differences to be resolved.

Many of the meals and snacks suggested in Caring for Children are suitable for all children however, when the menu meal is not appropriate for some children, having suitable meals in the freezer could be helpful. A sauce that is appropriate for all children could be made (and frozen if need be). This could then be suitable for a variety of dishes.

Some families may prefer to provide the food for their children and this practice should be supported.

When meals are different for some children, these differences can promote discussion, learning and understanding.

Sharing recipes with families within your service is another way of promoting discussion and learning. (Caring for Children page 89).

Fussy Eating

Cooks can help to manage fussy eating behaviours by ensuring the menu provides a variety of nutritious foods and textures. Plan menus for children to have portions that are child sized and realistic. Through the menus, new food can be introduced regularly, by providing a small amount of a new food alongside a familiar food to increase children’s exposure to unfamiliar foods. (Caring for Children, page 73)

More information on fussy eaters can be found on the NSW Health, Healthy Kids website.

Safe Food Handling and Hygiene

Safe food handling and hygiene is an important practice in kitchens and early child care centres. Caring for Children provides a comprehensive tool to manage food handling and hygiene. Providing information on food delivery, safe practices to prevent cross contamination or the spread of bacteria, safe heating, serving and storage, storage life and safe food standards.

Munch Menu Grant

To assist Centres to implement the new Caring for Children Guidelines to meet children’s nutritional needs and ensure that food provided is appropriate for children’s growth and development, Mid North Coast Local Health District is offering $750 grants for Centres to purchase kitchen appliances or kitchen wear to assist in food preparation.

For more information on this program, check out our resources, or contact us.