Thursday, January 5, 2012

Toddler Lunches - Buffet Style

Margaret has officially reached that delightful "picky eater" stage of toddlerhood. It was only a matter of time, really. My kid went from gobbling tofu and sugar snap peas and plates of stir fry to taking an experimental lick of her peanut butter sandwich before turning her nose up at it and demanding one of the three foods she'll reliably consume: bananas, oatmeal, and milk.

I'm no short order cook. At dinner time, we serve what we've chosen, and her choice is whether she eats it or not. She usually chooses "not." When I'm feeling more enlightened, I remind myself that she's learning autonomy and wanting to take charge of her own eating choices. I don't blame her. I like to have a little choice in what I eat, too.

Enter the buffet. This Thanksgiving, my grandma laid out a lovely spread of fruits, veggies, crackers, and other finger foods to pick at while we waited for dinner. Margaret was in heaven. She got her own plate and loaded it up with anything that struck her fancy. She ate it all and then went back for seconds... and thirds!

I decided to give it a shot and replicate this idea for our lunches at home. (Dinners are still the same, in hopes she eventually decides to step outside her comfort zone.) I set out a selection similar to the Thanksgiving buffet (though not nearly so fancy or decadent) and gave Meg a divided dish to load up as she pleased.

I got these divided food storage containers from Wal-Mart. This way, I can prepare a week's worth of lunches and just pull the containers out every day at lunchtime.

I bought this fruit spread mostly because I wanted the tray! Once the precut fruit was gone, I've been cutting my own up and presenting it in the same tray.

Everything on the table was nutritious, so she was free to have as much or as little of anything she wanted. From what I've read, one should be more concerned with a toddler's diet being balanced over the course of a week, rather than a day. So 3 days of veggies followed by a lunch of only cheese isn't a problem. Every day, I'd set out the same offerings, and she'd help herself. Once something was gone it was gone, so if she chose to eat all the grapes in one day, she'd have to switch to apples or melon to satiate her sweet tooth later in the week.

I refill the trays once everything's been eaten. I shoot for at least two:
fruits: anything seasonal and cheap
vegetables: ditto
grains: crackers, pretzels, tortilla chips, bread
protein: cheese, deli meat, chunks of chicken, beans, nuts

Sometimes I'll add a yogurt dip or hummus.

Here's the plate she made for herself the first day:

Pretty cute, huh? She sure was crazy about those grapes. I was pleased to see her also go for some whole wheat crackers and cauliflower too. We're about a month into the buffet experiment, and it's still going strong. As soon as she wakes up from her morning nap, she begs for her fun lunch.

I've got to admit, I'm quite enjoying the experience myself. I've mentioned before that I really loathe cooking. This requires very little food prep, and it still gives my kid (and me) a healthy, tasty lunch. It's awesome that it takes me almost no effort to be so virtuous. Heck, it's easier than cooking up a package of ramen noodles!


1 comment:

Sansha said...

I have always done something very similar with the kids, although I make up a mixed plate for them everyday. I like the idea of them filling up their own plate, rather than doing it every day.