Cooking the Healthful Way

Serving healthier meals to children in child care facilities participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program is a challenge.

Planning meals that follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans nutrition guidelines and preparing food with good nutrition in mind is important. To cook healthier meals, you should:

  • Use standardized recipes.
  • Select recipes that follow the principles of the moderate use of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium.
  • Develop new recipes if needed.
  • Read labels on pre-prepared food products and select those that follow these same nutrition guidelines.
  • Select lower fat cooking methods.
  • Learn to properly prepare each food on the menu so that it smells, looks and tastes good to children.
  • Make food fun!

A plan is needed to reach the goal of healthier meal preparation. The plan begins with the menu and the recipes. It is important to follow the plan carefully.

Get started

  • Plan the work to be done.
  • Get all supplies and equipment ready.
  • Cook all foods using the correct methods.
  • Serve all foods at the peak of quality.

How to use a standardized recipe

A recipe tells us how to make a certain menu item. There should be a standardized recipe for each item on the menu. Even foods that are pre-prepared should have a recipe or directions for preparation on file to make sure they are prepared properly. A recipe tells us the ingredients needed, the amounts needed, and how to combine them.

A standardized recipe is a recipe that has been tested and results in a consistent product each time. Recipes are standardized only after you have tested them in your own kitchen. A recipe should be adjusted to the equipment available in your kitchen and the taste preferences of the children in your center. When followed exactly, a standardized recipe insures a good product and a specific number of servings and consistent nutritive value every time the recipe is prepared.

Tips for recipe selection and development

  • Make changes gradually when lowering fat, salt and sugar in the menu so the meals will be acceptable to children.
  • Try different herbs and spices as seasonings to replace flavors lost when fat, salt, and sugar are reduced.
  • Select cooking methods that require less fast such as baking, broiling, grilling, steaming and boiling.
  • Try new fat-reduced products to replace high-fat products such as mayonnaise and sour cream.
  • Use a little as one-half of the sugar in baked products.
  • Select more whole grains and legumes for lower fat meals that add lots of flavor and nutrients.
  • Serve healthful desserts made from grains and fruits.
  • Make as many foods from scratch as possible to control the amount and kind of fat, salt and sugar added.
  • Follow the recipe! Resist the temptation to add a little extra fat, salt or sugar during cooking.

Taken fromWhat's Cooking? A fact sheet for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Volume 1, Number 2, National Food Service Management Institute, The University of Mississippi.