When my son began preschool this fall, I found myself faced with a challenge: packing school lunches. He used to sit on his grandfather’s lap and share a can of sardines; then he turned three and developed an odd and unpredictable relationship with food. My solution was to give him an array of options, in the hopes I would happen across something he would be willing to eat. Like most first-time mothers, I was convinced I was doing something wrong. Dr. Sears is one expert I can count on to be reassuring and to talk me off my latest ledge. His online article “Grazing” actually suggests that parents give kids little nibble platters! Why? Their natural inclination is to graze, not to gorge.
From mini-muffin baking pans to ice cube trays, over the years I have picked up all kinds of things that serve as nibble platters. There are hundreds of different style bento boxes available, but the very best grazing trays I have used have to be the Goodbyn and the Nibble Tray. They have the perfect sized compartments and lids that fit on tightly so the kids won’t have yogurt-covered raisins and star-shaped cheese smashed into their homework folder.
While you obviously have to adjust the contents of the boxes according to the age and tastes of your kiddos, there are a few accessories and meals that are fan-favorites in my house. For starters, I picked up these tiny animal “forks” called picks that my son adores! I also picked up some train-themed cookie cutters, a sandwich cutter that cuts bread like a puzzle, and a set of miniature cookie cutters that I can use for both school lunches and dinner parties, all for about $10. As a general rule of thumb, I suggest you always include a grain, a protein, a fruit, a veggie, and a little treat in the nibble tray.
Sticks in the mud: Add a few tablespoons of almond or sunflower butter to a compartment. I like to add honey wheat pretzels sticks, green or red pepper sticks, pear or apple sticks, and celery sticks. If you like to add a little dessert of some kind, try some graham cracker sticks.
Pizza party: Put crackers or cut up pieces of bread into a compartment. Add spaghetti sauce to another compartment and add the “fixins” to the other compartments: mozzarella cheese, tiny pepperoni, diced up veggies or pineapple, to give you a few ideas. Finally, add some cut up melon, a square of dark chocolate, or biscotti bites for a sweet finish.
Mediterranean mixture: Chopped grilled chicken, pita triangles or chips, chickpeas or hummus, halved green or black olives, yogurt-covered raisins, and chocolate sunflower seeds as a treat.
While it is fun to go with a thematic meal, many bento boxes are just as delicious when they include the little bits of this and that leftover from the fridge and pantry. Just offer a variety of healthful and bite-sized choices to your kids and watch the amazing grazing begin.