Managing menus in uncertain times - advice for nurseries and childminders

With supermarket shortages and long delivery times, many early years providers are needing to adapt their usual menus to cope with fluctuating food supplies.

It’s important to note that the government has assured everyone that there is enough food coming into shops. But in such an extraordinary situation, it has been necessary for some retailers to limit sales to ensure that people only buy their fair share and that there is enough for vulnerable people and NHS workers.

Some vulnerable families may be struggling to access the foods they need at home so it’s particularly important at the moment to help ensure food security for all.

Top tips for early years providers needing to adjust their menus

  • Speak directly to your local supermarket store manager to establish a relationship with them and to discuss options for getting what your setting needs.
  • If possible, set up a business account to order your groceries online, rather than using a personal account. Some retailers allow you to select “nursery” as a category of business. This is because if retailers can take action to support childcare providers shopping for food, they want to quickly identify which online grocery accounts belong to this customer group.
  • Build links with local food suppliers such as greengrocers, butchers and plastic-free refill shops. Many suppliers have introduced new or additional delivery services in recent weeks. Some independgirl sifting flourent food stores and wholesalers sell large packs, or even sacks, of items such as rice.
  • Consider partnering with other local providers to bulk buy and share orders direct from farms or other local suppliers.
  • Some local fish and chip shops are selling 15kg bags of potatoes direct to customers. Many recipes, such as pasta bakes, can be made with potatoes instead of pasta, if you are struggling to get hold of it.
  • Adapt your menus to allow as much flexibility as possible. Broad titles for dishes such as “Fish of the day with seasonal green vegetables”, “Roast of the week with rainbow vegetables”, “Ocean Pie”, “Spring Soup” or “Roasted fruits with yogurt” allows you to adjust ingredients based on what you have available.
  • Always remember to cross-check the suitability of new or different ingredients with your list of children’s food allergies – including if you have been given a ‘substitute’ item in an online delivery. Different brands of the same product can contain different allergens. Different size versions within the same brand such as mini versions of a standard product can also contain different allergens to the standard size versions.
  • Limit food waste and make food go further by ensuring portion sizes are appropriate. Research shows that many children are served too large a portion size. For tools to help ensure the right sized portion is served for each child. You can find more information about children’s portion sizes here.
  • Encourage children to self-serve their meals. This help reduce the amount of food that children leave on their plate. This is because adults tend to over-serve them.
  • Speak with parents of children with food allergies to understand what milks the child can safely consume, in case of problems purchasing some non-dairy milk types. Be certain which types of milk a child can and cannot have such as soya, oat or coconut.  Many versions are available in both the grocery and the chilled area of supermarkets so try both areas of the store. Remember that rice milk should not be given to children under five years of age, due to the levels of arsenic it contains.

What is the Alliance doing?

We have written to the heads of the UK's biggest supermarket chains, asking them to support childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Find out more

More support and advicebaby blocks

If you’re struggling to purchase certain food items, the following websites provide some great recipes. Remember that not all recipes will be suitable for young children so adapt recipes where necessary. For example, some recipes may have high salt content or ingredients that could be a choking hazard – please do check any new recipes against your allergy lists.