Kid-Friendly Meals: It's All About Packaging

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.From www.anotherlunch.comFrom

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.  From www.FamilyFreshCooking.comFrom


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


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


Great article, Kelly! My kids (at least the neurotypical ones!) are always won over by a pretty presentation.

There's a bit of an oops on my picture - my addy is :)

There must be something bento-y in the air today because I came across this website from a FB comment:

I have a question about all those cute cheese, sandwich, fruit leather, etc... cut-outs. What do you do with the "scraps?" Adult lunches?

Also, is there any risk of kids developing food "habits" or attitudes like refusing to eat foods that are touching each other or eating normal shaped sandwiches or cucumbers?

Do you get your kids in on the prepping of their lunches? How?

Great post!

Kelly, such a wonderful post. Thank you so much for including a link back to Family Fresh Cooking. Your wit and wisdom are well presented here. Well stated about those creepy pre packaged "foods" that are out there. It takes so little effort and time to feed ourselves and our families real, tasty, whole foods. Your lunchboxes are a fabulous invention for kids and adults.

thanks for the link rhena!

regarding scraps -- there are lots of techniques. sometimes i use them elsewhere in the bento (underneath the main "presentable" food or inside an onigiri), and sometimes i save them for other food (fried rice and omelettes are my two favorite scrap user-upper meals).

i definitely try not to waste!!

In my case the scraps often are eaten by me as I go, or I feed them to my baby (just turned one!). The scraps are usually already in tiny bite sized pieces, perfect for him! Waste not, want not! :)

We don't have much of a problem with the "leftover" bits either. In our kitty box above, the cheese got put back in the fridge (bow ties), I ate the carrot (fish cutout), the cucumber bits got tossed into a salad we were having for dinner, and my two little vultures ate the remains of the sandwich. ;o)

As well, with pretty fruit things, the kids tend to get the rest of it underneath the pretty fruit. I may cut out 4 or 5 hearts/flowers/stars, but those go on top and the rest of the container is regular diced fruit, so it's all used.

Mine love to help in the kitchen (they are 7 & 4) especially coming up with new things to try. Sometimes, it's a matter of trying it once and realizing "Oh, I like this!" My son was like that with zucchini, now he checks our plant everyday to see when we'll have a fresh one in the garden.

Great post! Even as an adult, I love to have pretty food. For those on the go days when lunch in the car (yes, that's bad, I know), having bite sized pieces that are easy to eat are a great way to help me avoid giving into to a fast food meal. Another site, which hasn't been updated lately, but has a ton of archived posts is Great pictures, ideas and an accounting of how long it took "Mom" to make the bento lunch. Although I'm no advocate for hot dogs, don't pass up her hot dog octopi.

These are a great meals for children instead those junk food serve at some school canteen.

I think it depends on kids. My kid shows very unusual behavior because he does not like to have anything in home. He has accustomed to have food outside. When we go to mall, shopping center he points his finger towards vending machine and sometime he is lured by promotional fast food like in burger king because in kids meal kids can get toys as well.

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