I think most people associate the term “kid-friendly” with bright colors. A kid-friendly party would have a clown in a neon costume. A kid-friendly park would have some kind of large climbing apparatus painted in blinding primary colors.
To me, however, kid-friendly is the color white. As in a white flag. As in “I surrender.” The most kid-friendly item in our house is, of course, the TV; when a kid is in front of it watching a show with say, a bright purple dinosaur, it’s a reminder of the fact that I’ve simply given up for half an hour.
When my daughters were younger, I would sometimes wave the white flag in the cereal aisle, when they would beg for the one with the bunny or the one with marshmallows fortified by leprechauns. Yes, those cereals were certainly “kid-friendly," having been brought to my childrens’ attention during kid-friendly TV shows. But over the past few years, I’ve learned that you can make healthy food kid-friendly, too. It’s all in the presentation -- something TV producers and cereal-makers already know.
Last year, in an effort to get my three girls to eat more raw veggies, I purchased a neat tray that sits on ice. I often fill its compartments to the brim with cut-up carrots, peppers, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and broccoli. Left on the table during homework time, I’ll find that, between them, the compartments are often left empty. “Please, can you put the veggies in that tray thing Mommy?” begs my 10-year-old.
Something about compartments makes food irresistible. The designers over at Oscar Meyer obviously figured that out way before me. They’re the makers of “Lunchables," those small “meals” of overly processed and additive-laden edibles. No matter that Lunchables score high on WebMd’s Worst Snack list, their profits prove that they also score high on the important kid-friendly meter. I’m thinking their irresistible appeal (okay, I admit I’ve been guilty of waving the white flag on this too) has little to do with the food. Lunchables are irresistible because they’re designed well – a colorful outer wrapper which peels back to reveal a neatly compartmentalized tray with even stacks of meats, crackers, and cheese. Kids get to “play” with their food, creating little sandwiches and rearranging the pieces around in the tray.
But surely we don’t need processed foods and bad-for-the-environment disposable trays to make food appealing for our kids. There are myriad other ways to engage and delight children, all the while offering up healthier choices.
Lisa Cain, aka Snack Girl, shares loads of kid-friendly and healthy recipes on her website. She suggests dips: “Kids love to dip. If you are feeding them carrots or broccoli, have a little cup of dressing for them to dip in. Hummus, yogurt, and peanut butter are also good choices for dips. Or fashion little faces out of apple slices, raisins, and add carrot sticks for the legs. Give them the raw ingredients and then let them 'make' their snack.”
Restaurants always work on the presentation of their meals. Adding a colorful sprig of parsley and a helping of cooked carrots transforms a serving of mashed potatoes from dull to delectable. A seemingly obvious way to make a plate of food appealing is to fill it with brightly hued choices. Deep red berries and vibrant green vegetables will appeal to a child’s innate artistic sense. Chef Marla Meridith says, “Kids are so often given bland, fatty, salty, sugary, lazy over processed ‘foods.' People think that is all they will eat.” She proves that theory wrong (her own young children gobble her nutrition-rich creations) and shares a wealth of eye catching photos and wholesome recipes on her website Family Fresh Cooking.
Marla served this meal (left) on an eye-catching mat and doubled the appeal of her already vibrant lunch. Compartments and color – a winning combo too pretty to resist!
According to Food Navigator: “A new study on children’s willingness to eat fruit indicates that they are prepared to eat twice as much when it is visually appealing.”
With an empty compartmentalized lunch container and a little imagination, you can replace Lunchables with what I like to call a “Momable." There are loads of healthy alternatives to junk food that can be served with flair and fun – just go for a “kid-friendly” presentation and put away the white flag of surrender.
Header photo from http://bentolunch.blogspot.com/2010/05/kitty-sandwiches-for-faith.html
Kelly Lester is an actress/singer and sometimes weary food cop. Really healthy stuff is found in her cabinets and fridge, but if her family could talk her into a dog she didn’t want, you know she gives in on occasion to pleas for junk food and ice cream. She lives in Los Angeles with her actor husband, three daughters, and the aforementioned dog. Kelly is the creator and CEO of EasyLunchboxes.com