Daycare Kitchen Requirements Simplified

Starting your own daycare can be daunting enough, but when you consider how you are going to provide food to the children staying there, it may become nearly impossible to understand. What do you need in your kitchen, and what do you need to do before you start serving food?

Daycare Kitchen Requirements Simplified

  1. Make sure you follow all zoning regulations.
  2. Find out your kitchen codes per state and receive the proper licenses.
  3. Understand your required meal pattern laws. Children (and adults in a daycare program) are required to have a certain amount of food and milk during the day according to federal law.
  4. Have the proper equipment and staff, like a handwashing sink separate from the food prep sink and proper cooking surface ventilation.

 What are the zoning regulations? What do you need in your kitchen to comply to state and federal laws? What kind of foods do you need to serve to your children? Read on to find out more.


1. Make sure you follow all zoning regulations.

Daycare Kitchen Requirements SimplifiedBefore you even start building your kitchen, make sure your daycare is zoned properly. Without it, you could be breaking a multitude of laws. You need to ask yourself how many children you will be serving, whether you’re considered a center or a family daycare, etc. These determinations will change how your licensure falls into place and will affect what you need in your kitchen.

2. Find out your kitchen codes per state and receive the proper licenses.

Daycare Kitchen Requirements SimplifiedBefore you put together your daycare kitchen, you’ll need to understand what is required by code. This can determine both the physical setup of your kitchen and what you can serve for each student.

An important caveat to note before you head into creating your daycare kitchen is that while certain other licenses and regulations are regulated by the city or municipal area, food protocols are usually handled by the state.

For example, in Minnesota, the Minnesota Food Code sets standards of cleanliness, hygiene, and storage practices, along with providing kitchen inspections. Here, they explain that the Minnesota Department of Health oversees licensing, and while local governments usually don’t set higher standards than that code, they are permitted to.

Another example from Ohio states that you must have a food service operation license or an exemption status from the local health department. The only exceptions in Ohio are if the center is located in an existing school or similar location with a food service operation license already.


3. Understand your required meal pattern laws.

Daycare Kitchen Requirements SimplifiedYour daycare will be required by law to serve a certain amount of food per child as put into place by federal law. According to the law from the Food and Nutrition Service section of the Department of Agriculture, the requirements include:

  • A certain amount of fluid milk as a beverage or cereal for both children and adults, if under care. Children under one year old require unflavored whole milk, while older children and adults can be served unflavored or flavored milk, either low-fat or fat-free.
  • Vegetables, either as juice or cooked, at least one serving per child. A vegetable can fulfill the fruit requirement at lunch or dinner, but two different vegetables must be served.
  • Fruits, whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or as fruit juice.
  • Grains, with enriched or whole grain meal or flour; at least one serving per day.
  • Breakfast cereals should have no more than six grams of sugar per dry ounce.
  • Meat or meat alternatives should be a served as a main dish and include
    • Lean meat, poultry, or fish, or an alternate protein
    • Cheese or an egg
    • Cooked dry beans or peas
    • Peanut butter or other nuts
    • Yogurt
    • Tofu and soy
    • Or a combination of the above.

You are also expected to follow infant feeding patterns and give the appropriate food in the appropriate time frame to infants within a particular age group.

Check out these menu examples you can utilize in your daycare!

4. Have the proper equipment and staff.

Daycare Kitchen Requirements SimplifiedNow that you know what you must serve, how you must serve it, and how to get the proper licenses to do so, you must have the proper equipment in your kitchen.

While you may expect a daycare kitchen to match the one in your home, that is not the case.  You will have to follow regulations on that as well, which varies from state to state. You may be required to have three compartments and a grease trap in your sink or a separate hand-washing sink in your kitchen.

You’ll also likely have to install commercial hoods, stoves, or refrigerators to keep up with the demand of your daycare kitchen. That’s where knowing how many children you are going to have comes in. You may not need the larger commercial equipment if your numbers are lower, but if you expect large classes, you’re going to need that level of equipment in your kitchen.

When it comes down to it, the main pieces of equipment that you will need generally are food preparation sinks, a separate hand washing sink, a way to maintain safe food temperatures like a refrigerator and a stove, and proper cooking surface ventilation. You may also have a microwave oven that is used properly and if children are denied access.

Your kitchen should also be separate from all other areas to make sure it is as clean as possible. It also should not be used as a pass through for children or employees, especially when food is being prepared; food preparation areas should be blocked off to make sure unauthorized individuals are not coming in while food is being prepared.

Having the proper equipment also includes having properly trained individuals. You do not want your daycare to be staffed by people who do not know the food safety standards of your state. Make sure your employees are trained properly on how to clean and cook in your kitchen to maintain the safety of your children under your care.

The best way to figure out what regulations you need to meet is to contact your state. They can provide you not only with the zoning and licensure rules, but how to stay in compliance with all the set rules and keep your children as safe as possible. Following these rules are not just required and help you stay in compliance, but they can give your children’s parents peace of mind—adding to your credibility as a daycare center.




What kind of equipment do I need for a daycare?
Equipment needed for a daycare, whether in a separate building or in your home, include toys, furniture, cleaning supplies, safety supplies, napping supplies, and a way for you to communicate with parents. Watch regulations to find out whether your state requires you to have a certain number of each for the number of children you are watching.

Why is it important to store food correctly at a daycare?
Because younger children are at higher risk for getting sick from contaminated food, you should be very careful preparing food at your daycare. Their immune systems are still developing and can suffer from improperly prepared or stored food.

What are the basics of food safety?
Because diseases can be spread if food is not safely prepared, your daycare should follow the food safety basics, including cleaning, keeping foods apart so they do not cross-contaminate, cooking food to proper temperatures, and refrigerating items that need refrigerated.


Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.

To learn more on how to start your own daycare checkout my startup course and documents here.