Everyone has a different approach to CACFP menu creation, but one thing remains consistent: it’s not easy!

Nutrition and menu planning are often the most challenging tasks providers have to face. The food industry constantly changes, new products come out, and the demand for healthier options increases. There are so many factors that go into creating a creditable CACFP menu that it can be challenging to determine what to include. This week was #CACFPWeek, so we wanted to look at how providers create their menus and what struggles they’ve faced in the past.

The response was fantastic, and we appreciate everyone who shared their struggle and how they addressed it! You’ll have seen some of these on our social media this week (follow us here!), and we wish we could post everyone individually. The creativity in keeping meals from becoming stale is outstanding.

We’ve gathered a nice helping of advice and creative meal suggestions just for you. Read on to see how your peers keep it fresh! And, since it’s CACFP week, you’ll find little CACFP tidbits throughout.

Note: Menus and comments have been edited for formatting purposes.

A Step Ahead Gets Creative with Seasonings in Washington

“During COVID, we had a hard time buying pretty anything in a daycare quantity. Seasonings—herbs, specifically—change it up.”

Lentil Soup

  • 2 cups lentils or split peas
  • Any variety 6 cup stock (chicken, preferred, but any will do.)
  • 1-3 bay leaves depending on size
  • 1/4 cup thyme leaves fresh
    • This is another great place to riff it! You can add parsley, you can add rosemary, you can have tarragon—whatever you have growing in the garden
  • Wilt baby spinach or other greens into the soup
  • Serve with a roll / bread, another vegetable/fruit, And milk

ABC Angels Bilingual Christian Academy Crafts a Delicious, Nutritious Breakfast in Georgia

“Especially with cereals. I didn’t think it was very fun for them to eat cereal or oats in the conventional way. So, I found a recipe, and I made my changes by adding fruits and preserving their nutritional value. Every week they ask me to prepare this recipe for them.”

Oatmeal and Chia Seed Pudding (Seves 6)

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 cups oats
  • 2tbs chia seeds
  • 2 cups fat free or 1% milk (fat free or 1%)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries and
  • 1 green apple, diced
  • Georgia Grow Honey to serve

To prepare:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. In a bowl, mash bananas.
  3. Add oats, chia seeds, and milk.
  4. Transfer to a a greased, oven-safe bowl and cover with blueberries and green apple.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes.
  6. Serve warm with honey.
An image showing milk bottles and a milk can, followed by facts about milk types for CACFP. Dairy products are essential to strong, healthy bones.
…and that’s why we serve milk with every meal! Click here for a handy milk in CACFP worksheet.

Aldana Family Child Care Gets Green in California

“I know the rule is not to repeat the same menu more than 2 times during the week, but sometimes my kids ask for the same dish again and again.”

Mexican Green Salad

  • Broccoli
  • Avocado
  • Grated Carrot
  • Salt
  • Lemon Juice

Serve with oven-fried chicken, an orange, and milk.

Barbara in Illinois Puts a Healthy Twist on Pizza

“It’s hard trying to come up with new ideas that the children might like. It’s always a rotation of meals with me. I tried preparing vegetable in pies to mixed it up or I tried meat pies. My favorite the the kids enjoy is pizza.”

Barbara’s Pizza

  • Whole-grain English muffins
  • Beef pepperoni
  • Pizza Sauce
  • Cheese

Add a side dish like, baked fries, fruit, tossed salad, and milk.

Bev’s Teddy Grahams Takes a Scientific Approach in Tennessee

“I just started to try different fruits every month, then I did the same with veggies.”

Corn Dog Meal

  • Corn Dog Wrap
  • Cauliflower
  • Pineapples
  • Ice-cold Milk

Big Dreams Daycare in Minnesota Researches Fresh Ideas

“Menu planning is one of the areas I constantly struggle with. Meeting the food standards, keeping it interesting and kid friendly is always hard. I have looked through Pinterest and asked parents what foods they serve at home to help with ideas. “

Ham & Pasta

  • Pasta noodles
  • Ham cubes
  • Mixed vegetables (frozen)
  • Wheat toast with butter and garlic salt
  • Milk

Bright Beginnings Child Care in Iowa Collaborates with the Kids

“I find myself often reusing menus without changing things up. It’s just so much easier to do what’s familiar. I now put together my menus with my daycare kids. We sit around the table and I ask everyone what they would like me to add for the following week. I have been surprised to hear requests for cauliflower or veggie face sandwiches. When they ask for the items and see their requests on the menu, they tend to eat better. I think one of our favorite menu items are yogurt parfaits. We use vanilla yogurt and top it with granola and cut up fruit. The kids can’t get enough of it.”

Yogurt Parfaits

  • Vanilla yogurt
  • Granola
  • Fruit

Cathy’s “Little Friends” in Indiana Has a Tasty Meatball Recipe

For a complete meal, serve homemade meatballs with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, a roll, and milk.

Cathy’s Homemade Meatballs

  • 2 ground beef
  • 3/4 c bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/4 c yellow onion
  • 1/4 c ketchup
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • 2 jars savory beef gravy.

To prepare:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Combine beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, milk, onion, ketchup, salt, and pepper and mix well.
  3. Roll into meatballs and place on parchment paper.
  4. Bake 25 minutes or until done.
  5. Place the meatballs into a skillet and pour two jars of savory beef gravy over the meatballs and heat until warm.
  6. Serve the appropriate amount of ounces of meatballs per age group.

Cheryl M. in California Tries Some Add-Ons for Her Standard Menus

“I have been in the same menu rut more often than I care to admit. I like consistency, and when you can please 12 at a time you stick with it! I have been keeping the main component the same but trying new add-ons. Having the children help with meals adds variety, so does eating on fun plates and napkins. I have been introducing new components gradually…in fun ways.”

Sample menu: Egg burrito, green beans, orange slices, strawberries, and milk.

Collins Little Cottage in Illinois Refreshes their Friday Meal

“For years, I would serve every fish every Friday, but I decided to change it up.”

Sample menu: Spaghetti with cut up hot dogs, fruit cocktail, garlic bread, lettuce & tomato salad, and milk.

An image showing a variety of proteins, like chicken, ham, sausage, and eggs. It reads Tuesday Meat Alt and includes facts about meat alternates being used as grains in CACFP.
Some examples of meat alternates are: cheese, yogurt, dry beans or peas (legumes), eggs, and tofu. Click here to check out the details in the Crediting Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Delores P. Family Child Care Home Gets Cheesy in Florida

“I used to serve a lot of grilled cheese. Then, I swapped out grilled cheese for ham, mac & cheese, yogurt. Or, a simple slice of cheese on wheat bread with air-fried tater tots and applesauce.”

Grandma’s Angels Puts a New Spin on Enchiladas in North Carolina

“I started making easier homemade foods, like cheesy enchiladas instead of spaghetti or chili.”

Grandma’s Enchildadas

  • Cooked rice
  • Ground beef
  • Chili seasoning
  • Tomato sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • 2-3 different cheeses
  • Sour cream

Granny’s House Christian Family Child Care Gets Input in Indiana

“Years ago I found myself in that situation. So, I asked for parental and child input. We added favorite meals from home and the children enjoyed the project. My favorite is a quick snack of carrot and celery sticks in a cup with ranch at the bottom of the cup.”

Happy Penguins Family Child Care Serves up Pumpkin in California

Happy Penguins shared a scrumptious soup recipe.

Pumpkin Soup

  • Beef
  • Pumpkin
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Mint
  • Pepper paste
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • Salt & Pepper

To prepare:

  1. Cook beef, cut into small pieces, and set aside.
  2. Cut pumpkin into small pieces and set aside.
  3. In a large pot, add garlic, butter, and milk and let cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add pepper paste pumpkin, and water and cook until pumpkin is soft.
  5. Add Garbanzo beans, meat, and salt & pepper. Heat through.
An image showing a breastfeeding woman. IT reads Wednesday Infants and provides information about breastmilk in CACFP.
Plus, they also may receive reimbursement, if the parent brings the breast milk. The USDA has some great information about breastfeeding here!

Irma P. Loves Cooking for the Kids in Louisiana

“I just try to change up an serve others dishes. Love cooking and serving the children. It does me a great honor.”

Sample menus:

  • Red Beans an Rice BBQ Chicken corn bread.
  • But, if it’s Tuesday…steak, gravy, and rice.

It’s A Majic Moment Group Daycare in NYC Remixes Components & Finds a Favorite

“I serve poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese as proteins. The kids got fed up with chicken served as rotisseries chicken with a dinner roll and salad. So, I decided to change the dish to chicken salad using the same components. It’s one of the children’s favorite dishes. Younger and older children both love it, and, in fact will request it when they’re present at the daycare.”

Chicken Salad with Toasted French Bread (Serves 8)

  • Rotisserie chicken breast, shredded or cut into cubes
  • 1/2 head large iceberg lettuce, cut into 1in pieces
  • 1-2 large honey crisp apples (they have a sweet crunch and hold up well in this recipe), chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, sliced
  • 1/2 c ranch dressing
  • French bread

To prepare:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the bread in a bowl, toss, and set aside.
  2. Cut French bread into 1 inch-thick pieces and toast with butter.
  3. Serve the salad with the toast on the side.

Karen Wilson’s Daycare in Pennsylvania Has a Varied Rotation

“I have a different menu every day of the month. It repeats each month. On occasion, I throw something different in. With 30 different menus, they don’t seem to get bored, nor do I. But I’m open to new, simple recipes, that kids like.”

Karen’s Rice Skillet – “Quick, easy, and typically likeable. Covers everything but fruit and milk.”

  • Ground beef
  • French-style green beans, drained
  • Cream of mushroom soup
  • Rice, cooked

To Prepare:

  1. In a large skillet, cook the ground beef until it is no longer pink.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and heat through.
An image showing a plastic bottle of water pouring into a glass that's half-full. It reads Thursday Water and states that water must be made available to children throughout the day.
Drinking enough water is important for good health. FNS tells you why and gives you tips for introducing water in this handout.

Kiddie Garden Daycare Serves Up Yummy Meals (and Yum-Yums!) in Nebraska

“I made a 8 week rotating menu which makes grocery ordering even easier.”

Sample menus:

  • Breakfast: Baked pancakes with leftover berries. Use a cake mix and add the syrup to it for a no-mess breakfast. Bake in a sheet pan at 350 F until done (“I start poking the middle with a toothpick after 15 minutes.”)
  • Snacks: Cheese and cracker trays, apple slices with peanut butter, & cottage cheese and peaches.
  • Lunch: Yum-yums (recipe below), air-fried French fries, fruit, and milk.

Yum-Yums (Serves 2 adult-sized humans and 10 tiny humans)

  • 2lbs ground beef or turkey
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1/3 c Ketchup
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Hamburger or hot dog buns
  • Cheese

To prepare:

  1. Brown the beef in a skillet. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic while it cooks.
  2. Add the tomato soup, ketchup, mustard, and smoked paprika. Heat through.
  3. Serve on hamburger or hotdog buns with a slice of cheese.
Tip from Kiddie Garden: I put the younger kids' yum-yums on hot dog buns, because it's easier for them to hold and eat.

LaDonna G. in Nebraska Makes Meals a Hit with Child Participation

“Hot dogs—They beg for grilled ones and my favorite beans!! Hamburger Pizza with whole grain crust, lettuce with ranch, applesauce, and milk. Big hit!! Kids make their own. Love it!!”

Michelle’s Magic Moments Childcare Starts a Weekly Taste-Testing Tradition in Massachusetts

“It’s easy to serve the same menus over and over again, but it also just as easy to introduce new things. I have done a Taste-test Tuesday where, each Tuesday, I encourage the children to at least try something that may be new to them.”

Sweet and Sassy Pork Roast

  • 2lb pork tenderloin
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 c whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/4 c peach preserves

To prepare:

  1. Use a liner or spray the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray.
  2. Sprinkle pork tenderloin with garlic powder and place in a slow cooker.
  3. In a small bowl, combine cranberry sauce and peach preserves.
  4. Spread the mixture over the pork tenderloin.
  5. Cover and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.
"I like to serve this with mashed sweet potatoes, green peas and bread stuffing. Plus milk, of course!"

My Little Sprouts in Massachusetts Asked Their Peers for Recommendation

“I searched other daycare providers and asked for their go-to meals My children love meatballs with sauces and noodles with toasted wheat bread sprinkled with garlic seasoning.”

Opal’s Helping Hand Oklahoma Keeps it Simple and Fun

“I always like trying new things for the children…I make all meals colorful, I try to be creative with the children food, but they still sometimes be picky about what they eat. I’ve seen this recipe and its creditable…”

Hommade Chicken Nuggets – “It’s very simple. Kids love it!”

  • 1 can chicken
  • 1/2 c parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg

To prepare:

  1. In a bowl, mix all ingredients.
  2. Shape into patties and place on a prepared cookie sheet.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes on each side. Serve warm.

1, 2 Buckle My Shoe, Inc. in Georgia Hits the Internet & Connects with Peers for Fresh Ideas

“I typically seek new menus by my peers via the internet.”

Sample menu: Oatmeal, blueberries, and milk

Rhonda M. in Louisiana Serves a Variety & Lets the Kid’s Decide

“Instead of serving foods I like, I introduce the kids a variety of foods and let their taste buds decide what they like! For a quick snack, my babies love peanut butter on celery sticks! Another favorite is pigs-in-a blanket (wieners with croissants wrapped around them, baked in the oven)! This week, we are doing Dr. Seuss theme so green eggs and ham are on the menu!”

Socorro Child Care in California Brings on the Vegetables

“Lo que cambié es servir más verduras a los niños. También agregué más granos enteros. Mi menú favorito es pollo con brócoli, arroz blanco y manzana.”

"What I changed is serving more vegetables to the children. I also added more whole grains. My favorite menu is chicken with broccoli, white rice, and apple."

Strawberry School Serves up a Healthy Breakfast in California

“I switched it up sometimes to introduce variety of food for my preschoolers and kindergarteners.”

Strawberry School’s Homemade Waffles

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp cane sugar
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 pinch banking powder
  • 1/2 Milk
  • 1 egg (or egg replacement)
  • 1 tsp flax seeds

To prepare:

  1. Beat egg in a bowl.
  2. Add dry ingredients and oil. Mix well.
  3. Cook pancakes on a griddle or in a skillet until cooked through, flipping halfway through cooking.
  4. Serve with fresh blueberries and a cup of milk.

Sweet Steps Family Daycare California Turns Food into Art

“Well, I found myself serving the same eggs at breakfast, and I was looking for a way to make it more attractive for the children. I was looking to cut shapes in the bread, combine the colors of the fruits, and also add some vegetables.:

Sample menu: Scrambled egg with potatoes, strawberry and banana slices, toasted bread, and a glass of cold milk in the summer and warm in winter.

An image of a bowl half-full of cereal with a spoon next to it and more cereal spread around. It says Friday Cereal and lists the sugar requirements for cereal in the CACFP.
Limiting sugar is important for healthier outcomes. Learn how to calculate sugar limits for breakfast cereal here!

The Children’s Spot Wrangles up a Cheesy Chicken Delight in Texas

“Two years ago, I was serving the same [rotating] menus for 4 weeks at a time. I was used to having the same things every other week. It was getting old to have every bean at lunch time. One year ago, I was able to change out the menu to fun and kid-friendly items. Chicken spaghetti is a favorite with the kids, and even the school-agers ask for it.”

Chicken Spaghetti

  • Diced chicken, cooked
  • Whole-Grain Spaghetti, cooked
  • Cheese sauce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Cream of mushroom soup

To prepare:

  1. Mix ingredients together and bake until cooked through and the cheese is bubbling.

Tina S. Rolls Out Some Dough for Meaty Taco Treats in Illinois

“I was making food to the children’s likes. Same stuff each week. I found a few Facebook groups regarding daycare meals and went to Pinterest. I slowly started trying new entrees.”

Taco Rollups (or Taco Cinnamon Rolls)

  • Canned pizza dough, refrigerated
  • Taco meat
  • Shredded cheese

To prepare:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Roll out pizza dough on a greased cookie sheet.
  3. Spread taco meat evenly over the dough and top with shredded cheese.
  4. Roll long-ways and slice into 1 inch circles (it should look like a cinnamon roll).
  5. Bake for 15 minutes.
  6. Serve with corn for older kids and whatever veggies are saved from the previous day for younger kids, peaches, and milk.

Vasquez Family Day Care Mixes and Matches Proteins in California

“Changing the kind of meat or cooking soups or dry versions. For example, Spaghetti with meat balls or with chicken or with shrimp or chicken franks, or with whatever you have. You won’t go wrong with your kids, and you can add whatever vegetables you like. Just add a fruit side and milk and you have a full meal.”

Zainab B. ABC Home Juices Fruit for a Fresh Treat in Texas

“I kept serving the same type of bread for my grain and the same kind of juice, not knowing I could actually use a different kind of bread for the grain. With my juice, I started making my own. I started getting the actual fruits of different kind and juicing them.”

Favorite menu: Banana bread served as a snack or breakfast. Serve with milk, juice (real fruit juice), or a protein shake.

Related Post

CACFP Menus

The secret behind great CACFP menus, according to our providers.

With the help of our providers, we've gathered a nice helping of advice and creative meal suggestions just for you.

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