It's January. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over and the decorations are put away. Time to hit the reset button and plan for the year ahead.
If you are a child care provider, January is a great time to think about menu planning for the year. Have you thought about incorporating more local foods into your program? Would you like to spend less money on food? Save time? Reduce food waste? Using a cycle menu will help you achieve all of these goals.
Benefits of Cycle Menus
Time savings and reduced labor costs: Because menus are repeated, less time is spent planning, developing specifications, collecting necessary documents (such as product formulation statements and CN labels for CACFP) and purchasing. Maintaining a standard grocery list streamlines trips to the grocery store by making them more efficient and less frequent. As menu items are repeated, staff members become more familiar with the menu items and more efficient in preparing them.
Reduced food costs: Repeating recipes and menus will help you estimate the right amount of food to purchase and reduce waste. Knowing which foods you will need in advance allows you to purchase foods when they are on sale or in bulk quantities that often cost less. Cycle menus also give you the flexibility to use seasonal food items that may be less expensive.
Optimize storage space: Since cycle menus help project the right amount of food to purchase, they help keep stock at appropriate levels.
Reduced food waste: Just as cycle menus help you purchase the right amount of food, they also help you prepare the right amount of food and reduce food waste. Cycle menus can include the use of planned leftovers.
How do I develop a cycle menu? It sounds really time-consuming.
Cycle menu development is no simple task, but luckily there are numerous menu templates that you can use for free in your program! The examples below are CACFP-compliant for even greater convenience.
How can cycle menus make it easier for me to incorporate Farm to ECE in my program?
Implement a seasonal cycle menu! This type of menu will change during each season of the year and include foods that can be purchased locally during peak season. By knowing what you’ll be serving during the growing season, you’ll have an easier time procuring from local farmers, stores, coops, or distributors. If you have a small family home daycare, you may even be able to plan meals based on foods harvested out of your own garden! A cycle menu also makes it easier to plan nutrition education opportunities and special celebrations surrounding the foods being served.
If you've never used a cycle menu, consider giving it a try this year!