I am fortunate to have several wonderful women in my life with whom I have shared friendship and guidance over the years. My parenting and my heart have been blessed by their wisdom, love, honesty, and good humor. Last week my friend Lainie wrote about using Lines to teach kids how to clean up. This week, Donna, true heart-friend of 18 years and mother of 3 lovely girls (ages range from 1 to 16), writes about Grazing Trays. When she’s not musing on parenting, Donna helps people craft amazing college admissions essays, as well as other writing work. You can find her website HERE.
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A while back, I was trying to prep dinner and my toddler needed a snack. So in what felt like a flash of genius, I emptied an ice cube tray and filled it with various nibbles for her: some blueberries, a few cubes of cheese, hummus, carrot sticks and crackers as dippers, and a torn up piece or two of turkey. I set the tray on the lower rung of my step-stool where she could swing by and take a nibble or two as she played and stayed clear of the kitchen.
As I did this, memories of previous nibble trays came flooding back (my older daughters are much older) and I revisited my love of making healthy grazing and snacking accessible for children.
Here are the reasons I find it helpful to have grazing trays for toddlers:
They promote independence and decision-making. Kids love making choices over what to eat and in which order (you fill the tray, so the framework for choice is set by you).
Most babies and children, given the opportunity, will make balanced eating choices. So even if there’s a little treat or a somewhat simple carbohydrate in there, most kids will also reach for healthy choices as they nibble.
Once you’ve put the tray out for them, you can get back to what you’re doing.
Many children can’t sit still for an entire meal, and they prefer to play a little bit and then come back. If you leave the tray out for them in an easy-to-access, you’re not engaging in a battle of wills over food. Instead you are promoting their ability to eat as they are hungry and also encouraging them to remain engaged in their activities.
Some children really like to keep their foods separate from each other. Grazing trays and bento boxes allow for that without driving the parent crazy.
Although I am often daunted with the prospect of creating an entire meal from scratch for my kids, it’s very easy to look at the tray and just think about it little bit of this and a little bit of that to put into the spaces. It’s good to think in terms of food groups and what’s appropriate for your child to eat.
When you are on your game, you can prepare items in advance and keep them separate, such as carrot or celery sticks, or cubes of cheese, etc. Then, just pop them into the tray when needed. When you are not on your game, you can improvise.
Finally, if you’re too busy cooking a meal for your family or doing one of the many millions of things you do in your day, you might get hungry. If you were too harried to actually make yourself a meal and sit down, your child’s grazing tray is an excellent place to scavenge for some food. Don’t worry, they won’t starve.
The same principles hold true for snack trays for older kids.
Remember safety, of course: some children cannot eat any food while standing whatsoever. There’s also a high likelihood that your child might be walking around with whatever they take out of the box. So consider things such as choking hazards, messes, and the likelihood that you might find something months later under the sofa.