This is one of those comprehensive posts I've been meaning to write so I can link it to the sidebar for frequently asked questions. If you're a regular here, it'll be stuff you know for the most part. I do get questions from time to time though from parents of infants as they grow. It's all in the contract, but you forget that stuff as the months go by. This way it's all in one spot.
We are on a state-funded child care food program, so we have guidelines to follow for that. They come out four times a year to monitor us and make sure we serve vitamin A rich foods three times a week, vitamin C every day, enough milk and water, all that good stuff. The paper you have to sign every October is to renew on that.
Here's the basic gist of what we do:
Infants: we will provide the general store brand milk-based or soy-based formula. If your baby is on a specialized formula like nutramigen or you just want to bring a certain name brand, you are responsible for that. And of course if you're pumping you can bring breast milk. From 0-7 months a "meal" is satisfied by just a bottle. We aren't required to document any kind of cereal or solid food until 8 months. Most babies do start eating that stuff here before that, and we begin feeding those things on prompting from parents. Some kids have nothing but breast milk till six months, and some are eating full bowls of cereal and fruit at four months. We follow your lead on that and feed your baby what you want them to have, when you and/or your pediatrician are ready.
As far as baby food goes- usually I buy beech-nut stage 2. I haven't found that stage 1 is really necessary for us. The jars are smaller, which is helpful to avoid waste if you just have one baby at home. When we're feeding multiple infants and dividing jars, the bigger ones work better. I don't like the brands that come in plastic tubs as well, which is why I say beech nut. They're one of the few that still come in glass jars. Sometimes I get on a kick and make baby food to freeze, but I haven't done that in awhile. When I do, I make a ton of several kinds so that I can do the sneaky chef thing and hide veggie puree in the big kid food as well as having some for babies.
Older infants: from 8-12 months a "meal" is characterized by a bottle, iron-fortified cereal (we always serve rice due to allergy possibility), and a fruit or vegetable. During this age period the kids will sit in chairs near the big kids during mealtimes and begin to eat table food as well. Since the food program doesn't require any baby food at all past the first birthday, we work on trying to get them ready for textures and tastes. They'll usually be able to eat more breakfast foods first- waffles, cereal, cut-up fruits, pancakes, hash browns, things like that. If we're serving oatmeal, yogurt, or something like soup or stew for lunch, then we'll spoon feed them. Otherwise we just put it on the tray and let them explore. We do put bibs on them, but food is such an interesting sensory experience that it still ends up everywhere. They get messy. :)
For scheduling purposes, we do try to serve infant meals at consistent times from day to day, but sometimes it just isn't possible. They sleep differently and therefore the times when they're hungry is sometimes different too. This age group is the hardest to keep on a schedule because of the fact that they need to be individually fed. There are days when a late feeding can mess up the time that you wanted to eat dinner, if they're not hungry for you then. We apologize in advance for that- we do the best we can in a group setting!
After 12 months the food program considers them big kids and they can eat all table food, all the time. For breakfast I am required to serve a whole grain carb, a fruit/veg, and milk. For lunch, a protein, a whole grain carb, two fruit/veg, and milk. Snacks need to consist of two items from two different food groups. We also have water available to drink at all meals. We're only allowed to do sugary stuff once a week, and I really only offer that on birthdays. It's become a fun tradition for the kids- they know we'll bake cupcakes together on birthday mornings.
My kids and I have been diagnosed with celiac disease. It's not an allergy- it's an auto-immune disorder so we'll never grow out of it. We are strictly gluten-free and it's just not worth it to me to serve gluten to the daycare kids, even though it would be cheaper to do. Twenty parts per million can make us sick, and with little kids around the risk is too high. We've learned to work with it pretty well and the kids for the most part really enjoy my cooking. I like the fact that we can advertise as being able to cater to special needs diets and allergies too. Because of the severity and strictness of the celiac diet, I know about cross-contamination and careful avoidance. If your child is allergic to something else, we can work around it. I've had pretty extensive experience with anaphylactic tree nut, peanut, dairy, and egg allergies as well. Also, Anna is dairy free so we make a lot of things with no dairy. Sometimes we do almond milk, or else rice milk if we have kiddos with nut issues.
Due to all this, I really would prefer that you didn't bring your child (over 12 months) their own special food. It's one thing for infant formula or homemade baby food that I can freeze- that stuff is easy to deal with. But when it's goldfish crackers or pop tarts, or even something homemade and super healthy and fabulous, it's difficult sometimes to keep a mobile kid completely away from everyone else while they eat. We try to eat at the table family style and I hate to ostracize anyone. If the kind of food we serve doesn't work for you, I can work with you to see what we could change, or else maybe we're just not a good match for your family. That's why there are so many great daycares out there. :)
I cook hot food a majority of the time. Sometimes we'll do stuff like cold cuts and veggies for lunch, or cold cereal and fruit for breakfast. More often though we do homemade soups and stews and casseroles for lunch, and stuff like homemade pancakes, waffles, fruit crisp, or breakfast casseroles. I don't have the luxury of just ripping open a box most times, and if I do, it really doesn't taste that good. (Yesterday I made pancakes for breakfast using gluten-free Bisquick and almost all the kids threw it out. My homemade ones are much tastier!)
Here's a sample big-kid menu:
hash-brown muffins with eggs and veggies: I use this recipe (I love pinterest!) and scramble the eggs and put in chopped veggies. I've been calling them "nest-eggs" to distinguish them from our other casseroles.
Chicken and rice soup, apple slices, and milk.
GF pretzels, red bell pepper slices
My philosophy of food is that I will cook meals as healthy and tasty as I can make them. My job is to offer a variety of foods at appropriate times. The child's job is to decide whether or not they're hungry, if they want to eat the meal, and how many helpings. I don't short-order cook for kids who don't like what I'm serving. I explain to them that the next meal is several hours away and that they might get hungry if they don't choose to eat their food. But it's the child's choice. I don't think they will starve if they don't eat, and I'm not going to offer a bunch of empty calorie snacks in between meals just because they turned up their nose at the veggies. Besides, gluten free snacks are hideously expensive. Many reasons why I just don't do it.
I also don't serve juice. When Duchess was three and she had her first trip to the dentist, he commented that he could tell we never gave her juice. He said it's just as bad for kids' teeth as soda. Between that, the sugary calories, and the recent arsenic business, not to mention the fact that I would go broke trying to serve as much juice as this many kids would be willing to drink, I just don't do it. They get milk at meals, they get water in between. Every now and then we have a tea party and I make decaf white tea and we get all hoity-toity. Sometimes I make whole fruit smoothies. (love my blendtec!) But no juice.
And there you have it. Please understand that the purpose of this post is just to lay out what we choose to do, so that you can see if it matches what you want for your child. I am not trying to say that you are wrong or bad if your kid drinks juice at home, or if you cook their favorite thing every night in addition to whatever you're eating, or just whatever. No judgment here at all. There are many, many good ways to raise a child, and tons of different paths that all lead to productive members of adult society. My grandmother used to say, "you raise your kids to suit yourself", and that's totally true. Different things suit different people and if you do something else, that doesn't mean it isn't a valid choice.