Understanding what your child eats at daycare

All parents want the best for their child when it comes to healthy eating. Many children spend most of the day in daycare. As a result, daycare workers play a big role in shaping your child’s eating habits. Read on to learn about the nutrition guidelines for daycares and get tips on working with your daycare provider to make sure your child eats well. 

Nutrition guidelines for daycares

In Ontario, licensed daycares must follow nutrition guidelines set out by the Ontario government. These guidelines help ensure your child is fed well. This means that:

  • Your child must be given certain amounts and types of nutritious meals and snacks.
  • The daycare must post menus in advance so you can see them. Changes to menus must also be posted.
  • If your child has a food allergy, her name and allergies must be posted in the kitchen and serving area.

See sample menu plans for daycares.

Understand what your child eats at daycare

  • Use these tips below to help you better understand what your child eats at daycare.

Ask questions to the daycare teachers and supervisor

  • Ask to see the weekly menus at the daycare so you know what your child is eating.
  • Ask who created the menu plans and if they are following the nutrition guidelines for daycares.
  • Ask how food is prepared, like “how is the pizza made?” Look for words that tell you how food is cooked like roasted, baked or poached instead of fried.
  • Find out how meals and snacks are going. Ask what, and how much, your child is eating. 

Plan ahead

  • Talk about your child’s likes and dislikes. Talk about your cultural food habits and any dietary restrictions with your caregiver.
  • Plan for any special dietary needs like food allergies with a registered dietitian or doctor. Talk about these needs directly with the daycare supervisor.

Talk about your concerns

  • If you have any concerns about what your child is eating at daycare, speak with the daycare supervisor.

Look for these items on the daycare menu

  • Plenty of vegetables and fruit
  • Whole grain breads, cereals, pitas, tortillas, roti, crackers and pasta
  • Fish, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, eggs and tofu
  • Snack foods made with little or no added fat, sugar or salt
  • Water, milk, fortified soy beverage, cheese and yogurt
  • 100% fruit juice limited to ½ cup-3/4 cup (125-175 mL) per day

These foods should be limited on the daycare menu

  • Sweetened drinks: Fruit drinks, fruit punches, sweetened fruit juice, pop
  • Sweets: Cakes, cookies, donuts, chocolate, sweetened cereals, chocolate-covered granola bars, chips, nachos
  • High fat foods: Cheese spreads, cream cheese, ice cream, whipped cream, sour cream, butter, lard, margarine, French fries or foods with sauce or gravy
  • Processed meats: Hot dogs, pepperoni sticks, bacon, sausages, luncheon meats/cold cuts, fish sticks, chicken nuggets
  • Processed foods: Frozen pizza, frozen prepared meals, ready-made macaroni and cheese, instant noodle soups or processed cheese slices 

The bottom line

Daycares have a responsibility to provide your child with healthy and nutritious foods. Work with your daycare by asking questions, talking about your concerns and getting to know the types of foods available on the menu. Have questions about daycare guidelines and your kids? Call an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.  You can also connect with your local public health unit to find out about policies or resources that are available in your area.  

Find out more
Parent and Caregivers Influence on Children’s Eating Habits
Child Care and Early Years Act

Last Update – December 1, 2017

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