Speaking of kid friendly foods and tricking your picky eaters into eating stuff that was good for them, I began thinking about what exactly it is I do to get our little one to eat.
Being on a budget and a diet means not buying a lot of junk food... My reference to Michael Pollan in a past entry really cemented my belief in not buying junk food just because it seems to be cheaper than healthy wholesome foods like fresh produce. "Shopping on the perimeter of the store" means choosing fresher foods, foods that aren't generally loaded with sugar (aka high fructose corn syrup) and fat. Now, when you think about a child, you think they need the calories anyways... and while that is partially true, you still need to give them calories from wholesome, healthy, and nutritious foods. But how many five year-olds will choose a whole wheat turkey sandwich over a pepperoni pizza pocket? Or a fresh apple over those cool little gel-filled fruit snacks? Not many... I have some views on these products regarding the diabetes epidemic in our country and other issues that I won't get into... but, my question is: How do you make healthy foods for kids as fun as those chalked-full-of-sugar ones?
I'll tell you how. You don't have to be that creative, and you don't have to be an artist. It certainly helps, but it isn't necessary. Its easy! Lots of my ideas came from my grandmother, who used to surprise me with a fun snack when I'd come home from school. She always had lots of fun ideas to dress up the sandwichs and fruits and veggies she gave me to eat, and in turn, I learned to love all that stuff... hey, I was a weird kid to begin with, but food appeal is as important to kids as it is to adult, if not more. Other ideas I got from various bento sites.
- Try the octopus hot dogs on Biggie's Lunch in a Box blog.
- Fruit and veggies are an easy thing to make fun!
- Of course you've heard of ants on a log? (Raisins dotted along a peanut butter filled celery rib).
- Apple Rabbits, also from Biggie's blog, they are pretty easy once you've done them a few times, and are very cute!
- Treasure pots: small tomatoes or apples that have been cored and filled with something. (I'll try to add a picture of these later) Fill with tuna salad, egg salad, raisins, yogurt, pudding, etc.
- Carrot coins/slices and baby carrots are a very commonly loved veggie amongst the toddlers/children I've ever worked with in daycares and schools. Ranch dressing, of course, is fun to dip it in, but other alternatives include sour cream with ranch flavoring mixed in, tzaziki, or hummus. Get creative and experiment to see what your little one likes.
- Sandwiches of any kind can be cut into a variety of shapes.
- Cookie cutters can be used to cut shapes either inside of the bread or our of the whole piece. Stars are particularly loved. Hearts are fairly easy too and add a cute touch.
- Be sure to cut the shapes out before you put the fillings on, unless you are O.K. eating the little bits that are left! :)
- Other kids items that are fairly guilt free:
- Rice cakes can be used to make fun shapes - use serrated knives to cut in halves or quarters. (Our little one loves the chocolate ones, they are made with brown rice and are only 60 calories and 4g sugar)
- I stay away from fruit snacks as even though some boast they are made with real fruit juice, they are still loaded with corn syrup. Try fruit leather... Elise at Simply Recipes has a great recipe for homemade fruit leather!
Once you have a repertoire of food items that are fun by themselves, you can create pictures and sculptures out of your food.
Faces are easy to make out of sandwiches. For eyes use raisins, cherries/berries, carrot coins, [a couple] M&Ms... For the nose the same can be used. Mouths can be made out of bananas, or snowman-style (dots in a row) with the same things as mentioned for eyes/noses. Hair can be made from carrot sticks, spaghetti (great use for leftovers), or rows of ranch dressing/ketchup (depending on what else is on the plate :)
Pictures can be made using a variety of things. Try a dog with a rectangle body made from half of a sandwich. A pear head with previously mentioned berry nose and raisin eye(s). Legs can be made out of baby carrots or the other half of the sandwich cut into tiny rectangles. A tail can be made from a long cut of banana.
Try making a sea scene. Long lengths of banana form the top of the ocean (squiggly lines of ranch or ketchup work well here too). Goldfish crackers swim freely. Green peas form the bubbles. Skinny lengths of sandwiches or toast make up the sandy sea floor (graham crackers work too) Octopus hotdogs float along the bottom near various plants (lettuce? carrot matchsticks arranged in a fan? potato stick coral?)
Or try making a simpler ocean. Cut a rice cake in half to form a semi circle, this becomes a boat. Slice a sandwich diagonally to make sails. Make waves out of banana semi-circles (cut the slices in half) Place a few octodogs at the bottom among a ketchup ocean floor.
Robots are well loved by our boy, and very easy to make since they are very angular, lots of squares and rectangles, which can be made with bread, crackers, carrot sticks, etc.
Try making a city. Sandwiches cut lengthwise to form long triangles can be adorned with lots of windows by cutting carrot sticks into small rectangles to form great skyscrapers. Banana coins placed irregularly together form fluffy clouds in the sky. Apple bunnies can sit on a leaf of lettuce that forms the grass in a park below the big city.
Let us know what you do to feed your kids healthy wholesome foods while making it fun in the process.