When searching for the best daycare for your baby, toddler, or preschooler, you’ll have a laundry list of questions to ask.
One of the biggest ones is all about what your child will eat and drink throughout the day.
The burden of having to prepare the next day’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and formula after a long day at work can be a heavy one for busy working parents.
Yet it if all meals are provided, the cost of daycare can be expensive. And how do you know that the food is of good quality?
So let’s get into it: Do daycares provide food or baby formula?
Daycare centers vary in terms of what their offering includes. However, most large daycare chains provide food and snacks at no additional cost. And most daycare centers will not provide formula for infants.
There are exceptions, however, so your best bet will be to find out what the daycare centers around you have on the menu.
We’ve researched the food and formula policies for all of the most popular daycares in the United States. In this guide, we’ll give you all the information so that you know what to expect when you send your child to daycare for the first time.
Do daycares provide food?
Almost all daycares provide food and snacks for children. These are often included in the fees, but some daycares charge extra for this service.
Parents usually have the option to send in their own pre-prepared food if they prefer.
These daycares usually include food in the fees:
These daycares often charge extra for food:
The examples above are daycare chains. Each individual daycare center in a chain is an individually owned and operated franchise, so they’re able to make their own rules.
The list above shows what you can generally expect, but you should always ask your local center to be sure of their food policies.
Some daycare centers provide table food but do not provide pureed baby food.
Others may offer meals but not snacks or vice versa.
So just because the website says ‘food in included’, doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have to bring extra.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program
Many daycare centers participate in the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
This federal program was designed to ensure that children (and adults with disabilities) attending daycare centers receive healthy, balanced meals.
Daycares that are part of the CACFP have to meet strict guidelines regarding the meals and snacks that they serve.
In return, they receive reimbursements that go some way towards covering the cost of the food.
Here’s a brief overview of what the CACFP guidelines include:
For infants between 6-11 months:
- Snacks must include a fruit or vegetable
- Juice is not allowed
For children aged 12 months and older:
- Lunch must include both a fruit and vegetable
- Juice is limited to once per day
- At least one serving of whole grains per day
- Yogurt must contain less than 23g of sugar per 6oz
- Breakfast cereal must contain less than 6g of sugar per oz
- Fried foods are not allowed
Do daycare centers cater to special diets?
The level to which daycare centers cater for special diets depends on the diet, the reason for the diet, and the policies of the individual center.
While some daycares do a fantastic job of managing dietary requirements, others would simply ask parents to provide the food.
Allergies and food intolerances are common amongst children and so almost all daycare centers will be able to cater to dairy-free kids or avoid serving ingredients like egg, gluten, or fish.
When it comes to special diets for religious reasons, moral reasons, or personal preference, then you may find that daycare centers are less willing to accommodate these requests.
While vegetarian diets are likely to be catered for, vegan diets may not be so easily accommodated by every childcare center, unless parents are willing to pack their own food.
Is daycare food healthy?
The quality of daycare food varies depending on the center.
Daycares that are part of the USDA food program have guidelines to ensure that the food on offer is nutritious, but not every daycare serves healthy food.
If you plan for your child to eat meals at daycare, you should ask to see some examples menus.
Here are a couple of menus that highlight the differences between the food on offer at different daycares:
Kiddie Academy Sample Menu:
- Breakfast – Cornflake cereal, applesauce, milk
- AM Snack – Fresh fruit with wholegrain crackers, water
- Lunch – Beef stew, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, orange slices, milk
- PM Snack – Low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit
KidsPark Sample Menu:
- Lunch – Pepperoni or cheese pizza
- Snack – Crackers
- Dinner – Chicken nuggets and fries
In this case, the food at Kiddie Academy is included, but the food at KidsPark costs $5.95 per meal.
So while Kids Park may seem like a cheaper daycare option, you’ll have to factor in the cost and quality of the food and think about whether you’d prefer to pack it yourself given the menu on offer.
Do daycares provide formula?
Some daycares may provide infant formula, but most do not.
Most daycares require parents to provide formula. They may also have policies about whether the formula should be ready-made or whether the staff will mix it.
These daycares do not provide formula:
- Kiddie Academy
- The Goddard School
- Kids R Kids
- Primrose Schools
- Lightbridge Academy
- Children’s Lighthouse
- Discovery Point
If your baby attends daycare before they are a year old, you should make a plan about how to feed your baby while they’re there.
That may include stopping by to breastfeed, providing expressed breastmilk, providing formula milk, or using formula milk that’s provided by the daycare center.
If your baby drinks a combination of breastmilk and formula milk, you should speak to the staff to ensure that they are offered the breastmilk first so that none is wasted.
You may also want to ask them not to feed your baby just before you collect them so that they are hungry and ready for breastfeeding when you pick them up.
Most daycares do not provide formula.
This is because switching babies from one brand of formula to another may not be good for their delicate stomachs.
Sometimes, finding a formula that agrees with your baby can be tricky, so parents often want to stick to the same brand at daycare.
In some locations, daycares that participate in the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) must offer at least one iron-fortified infant formula that’s regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
They are then reimbursed by the government for the cost of any formula provided.
However, again, the formula used at daycare may not match what you use at home — and thus, it’s likely better to send your own.
You should check with your daycare center to find out what their requirements are for bringing in formula milk.
Some daycare centers will let parents bring in a can of formula and bottles. They’ll mix it and clean the bottles for you.
Other daycare centers require parents to measure out the powder into each bottle and they will add the hot water to mix it.
Many daycare centers, however, do not have the time to mix formula. Instead, they ask that parents prepare all of the bottles each day to be stored in the refrigerator and heated as needed.
Once your child is 12 months old, they can drink whole cows milk instead of formula. However, you may continue to provide follow on milk or fortified toddler formula if you and your pediatrician prefer.
In summary, most daycare centers provide food for babies and toddlers but not infant formula.
The meals and snacks on offer vary quite a lot, so you should always take a good look at the menus when choosing a daycare center.
If food or formula is provided, you should check if there’s an extra charge for this and how much.
Bringing your own food and milk should always be an option, especially if your child has a special dietary requirement.
Your best bet will always be to tour your local daycare centers and ask plenty of questions in person!
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Hope this helps!