After you prepare delicious, healthy meals and snacks for children at your home or center, the next step is to serve them. Since children are notorious for being picky eaters, this can be quite an art form. As you plan meals, remember to think about the total presentation of the meal, including plates and utensils, as well as how the food itself will look. Follow the steps below for "outside the box" ideas to make sure food is appealing to young diners:
- Make sure distinct foods don't touch on the plate. While kids may enjoy each of the different foods on the plate separately, some kids can quickly be turned off if their foods touch. Try serving meals on divided plates or family style, in bowls in the middle of the table, allowing children to serve themselves.
- While food should not be handled like a toy, it's okay to make it fun! Kids are more willing to try new foods or polish off old favorites when they are entertained. They are also more likely to eat food that they have helped to prepare. Try these delightful tricks:
- Use metal or plastic cookie cutters to shape pancakes or bread into stars, smiley faces or animals. This can be especially fun on holidays and birthdays.
- Let kids design their yogurt, mashed potatoes or muffins with healthy decorations like raisins, nuts or peas. (Be aware of choking hazards.)
- Serve mini-pizzas with just cheese and tomato sauce. Then, give each child small cups filled with healthy toppings (e.g., peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes) and have them personalize their meal. This activity ensures that kids get pizza with toppings they enjoy and don't push it aside because it contains something they don't like.
- Mix it up and put a new spin on old favorites! Bananas, for example, can be served in countless ways. Make a banana into a popsicle by simply inserting a stick into it. Then, lightly coat it with peanut butter and roll it in crushed nuts or cereal. You can also give bananas arms and legs with carrots or pretzel sticks and create a face using raisins or other dried fruits. (Be aware of choking hazards.)
- Have children follow pattern cards to create their own fruit kabobs for a snack. For example, a red, yellow and green pattern can be used with strawberries, pineapple chunks and grapes.
- Make plates colorful! Eating is a sensory experience which involves not only taste, but also sight, smell and texture. Try to serve kids three distinctly-colored foods at each meal (e.g., brown rice, salmon and asparagus). Add yellow pepper slices, shredded carrots or spices (e.g., cinnamon and paprika) for an explosion of color at meals.2
- Give meals a crazy name. Instead of serving "Spaghetti and Meatballs," make the spaghetti into a mound, top it off with some grated parmesan cheese and call it "Snowy Spaghetti Mountain." If kids are currently reading a particular book or watching a movie, try to incorporate thematic elements. For example, if you're reading Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham," use a drop of food coloring and actually serve this mysterious meal!
- Temperature is important - meals should not be too hot or too cold. Careful planning and staff coordination should eliminate this problem.
- USDA Team Nutrition. Fruits & Vegetables Galore: Helping Kids Eat More, 2009.
- Menu Magic for Children: Menu Planning Guide for Child Care Homes. United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Published April 12, 2002. Accessed September 13, 2010. www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resources/menu_magic.pdf.