Using a bento box could be the key to helping toddlers and preschoolers eat more at lunch.
Not every daycare and preschool provides snacks and lunch as part of their service, and I realised this when I was faced a few months ago with the prospect of creating a lunchbox for my son's daycare days. I took on the challenge though, because I thought it will be great practice for the future of preparing his school lunches in the near future.
Of course, kids in the childcare and preschool age group are often notoriously fussy, and get bored easily.
So instead of packing one thing for morning tea, one thing for lunch and one thing for afternoon tea, I send this bento box from Stuck On You to daycare, with 6 different snacks each day. They are all cleverly compartmentalised into trays that cover all of the food groups, including:
Something extra (such as a little treat)
To keep things fresh and interesting for my son, I change it up each day and include a variety of textures but I keep the foods familiar and try to make sure they're not too messy, so that they will be eaten, not just picked at.
Be sure to adhere to the dietary requirements of your daycare centre. Some centres allow eggs or traces of nuts cooked into food, but others are more strict, plus your child's own allergies may affect what you can offer, such as if they have an intolerance to dairy or gluten. They are plenty of allergen free products available though, such as gluten free breads and flours and lactose free dairy items.
Here are some of my favourite snack ideas:
Fruit salad of cut up mandarin, apple, pear and berries
Mini crudites of sliced carrot, cucumber and celery, with homemade hummus on the side to dip. Cream cheese also works well.
Pretzels, popcorn, Vita Wheats or rice crackers.
Green muffins. There are lots of recipes out there that use avocado, spinach or other green veggies that are blended in with the flour and other ingredients to be fairly inconspicuous.
Pinwheel wraps or sandwiches filled with avocado, tomato, cucumber, ham, cheese and grated carrot, or a variation of all these things.
Cheesy vegemite scrolls
Greek yoghurt mixed with homemade purees of fruits and vegetables.
Dried fruit (but not too often as some childcare centres consider them to be less nutritious than fresh fruit)
Sliced chicken, turkey or ham
Corn on the cob
Kale or zucchini chips
Greek salad of cherry tomatoes, olives, feta and cucumber
Pasta salad of wholegrain penne or spirals, corn kernels, celery, capsicum and a touch of mayonnaise mixed with dijon mustard
Of course finding a child who eats this many types of foods can be tough, and it can be harder still to make sure the foods are simple enough for them to be eaten quickly so they still have time to play, and that taste best when served cold (because food can usually only be stored in the fridge, not heated up).
But the idea is that packing more options means kids are likely to eat more than they would with less options (especially if they have suddenly decided they no longer like foods they did last week). Just like adults, the more colour and flavour on a plate, the more appealing it will be for kids to eat.
Do you have any other snack ideas? Please let us know in the comments, we would love to hear from you!