Food

Picky Eater Strategy: Muffin Tin Tapas

Picky Eater Strategy: Muffin Tin Tapas

Man, there are so many things I wish I could go back and tell my old anxious self when I was struggling to feed my picky toddler who once went an entire day without eating more than a single raisin…

Number one on the list: that toddler just texted me a photo of the sashimi lunch special she was about to inhale. Number two? There are ways to make food appealing that do not include the dreaded cookie cutter. (Was there anything more soul-crushing than coming home after work and trying to shape a chicken cutlet into a heart, while pretending not to look at every bite she wouldn’t take? There was not.) My little nightmare was well into grade school by the time I came across this muffin tin tip in the pages of Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book and I am certain it would’ve been a game-changer.

Picky Eater Strategy: Muffin Tin Tapas

Bracken’s advice is that kids may eat more foods, more happily, if they’re served in a muffin tin. “Many little bits of things — a spoonful of applesauce, a few green beans, a few little candies, etc — are more appetizing than three items in quantity,” she says. The magic is in the mix. It’s so much less offensive for a kid to see a pile of seaweed if it’s sitting (not touching, omg not touching!) next to a pile of beautiful, familiar macaroni. The goal is to capitalize on the glow of familiarity, then surround it with things that might otherwise be automatic dealbreakers if piled high on something as boring as a plate.

I assembled two six-cup muffin tins to give a range of ideas, but please know that I wouldn’t expect anyone in his or her right mind to have time to chop and cook twelve separate foods. (Then again, parents of picky eaters are rarely in their right minds, so I get it if you want to go for it.) Shown above: (left tin) plums, hard-boiled eggs, steamed and fried Japanese sweet potatoes, smoked salmon, steamed broccoli, sliced avocado; (right tin) raspberries, watermelon, mini caprese, seaweed, crispy chickpeas, macaroni.

Picky Eater Strategy: Muffin Tin Tapas

How fun does this look? If you were a skeptical toddler, wouldn’t you at least be intrigued?

The best part about this technique is that you can assemble it with foods that are already in your pantry or crisper or fruit bowl. Or you can just serve what you are eating (grilled chicken! slaw! burgers!) in separated muffin tin piles. Whatever your inclination, whatever your situation, I promise it’s at least worth a shot. And I promise, everything will be okay.

P.S. How to get kids to eat vegetables and a handy flowchart to help you figure out what’s for dinner.

(Photos by Jenny Rosenstrach, who first wrote about muffin tin tapas on Dinner: A Love Story.)

  1. Robin says...

    Yes! I use bento boxes (yumbox) that are essentially the same principle. Little things lunches are the best, and way easier to pack when you don’t really have anything in. I pack them for myself too whenever there aren’t any leftovers! For dinner we have stainless steel thali plates from an Indian kitchen supply store. Cheap and perfect for kids (and adults some days!).

  2. My mom used to do “surprise plates” which were basically this same theory (small portions of several different things) but we wouldn’t get to see what she was putting on the plate. We loved it. My nieces and nephews beg for them now too!

  3. Sarah says...

    I have an extremely picky 10 year old & after 10 years of battling over every meal she has been confirmed as having high functioning autism which affects her eating. I felt so much guilt about her limited diet and had no end of ‘helpful’ advice from everyone, no-one seemed to really understand the level of selective eating we are dealing with. Lots of people deal with picky eating but sometimes it is part of something else that may be harder to address than a recipe or a hack ( as appreciated as these ideas are). Just in case anyone is reading this and thinking “ my kid only eats one brand of chicken nuggets and water, there is no way a muffin tin will help”.

  4. Linda Z says...

    So true!! Kids will eat so much more of a variety if you compartmentalize for them. You can get “cafeteria trays” at the dollar store when kids get older. Totally works!

  5. avi says...

    This is adorable! I most appreciate my pediatrician’s advice when it comes to healthy eating for kids. He said not to judge what they eat on any given day but rather to think of their nutrition over the course of a week or more. They don’t HAVE to eat fruit and vegetables daily (though it would be nice!), but rather if they eat a few servings of those things throughout the week and their diet overall seems balanced, it really is okay if some of their main foods on a daily basis are a form of carb and cheese. Liberating to know!

  6. Barbara says...

    We do something similar but call it ‘plate of good things’. Cut fruit, raw veggies, pickles, ham or turkey and cheese cubes, some kind of cracker or bread, and hummus or dip. My picky 4 and 6 year olds devour it.
    I also find that anything ‘build your own’ is a big hit. Think tacos, baked potatoes with toppings, etc. I just make sure that most of the options are healthy-ish, and the kiddos can choose what they include.

  7. Jessica says...

    I probably shouldn’t say anything, because I’m very lucky (maybe too lucky) where my kid’s eating is concerned…
    But the number one thing that gets my kid eating something new? Picking it. Like picking it off the vine, off the tree, off the bush.
    We were lucky to move into a house with raised beds and established blueberry, strawberry and raspberry plants – and that’s what started it. But now he’ll eat summer squash raw, and cucumbers whole, as long as he picked them (or maybe was told that it’s the one he picked earlier). For my three year old, having agency is such a huge deal, it changes the flavor of food!

  8. Monika says...

    I feel like an utter failure in this food/feeding of children regard. I am heartily opposed to elitism in nutrition, and I do believe that food is food, some is just better for you and offers more nutrition and health benefits. (for the record, I am a very healthy eater) But I have the fussiest fusspot that no one, NO ONE can convince to try new things. My oldest son is 7 and will not be fooled by muffin tins or green smoothies (or any colour of smoothie) or food that is wet, slimy, noodley, smelly, or in any way not a sauceless carb or a green apple. I have two other boys who are pretty good eaters, so I’m chalking this up to me just having a child with food issues and I will learn and help him and DEAL. But I read these articles with a mix of wistfulness and heartbreak and humour because nope. Not my kid.

    • RobberSoup says...

      You are not a failure! You are a mom trying her best. I have a similar issue, one pretty good eater and two terrible ones, and it actually makes me feel better, like it can’t be all my fault. Sending you good thoughts!

    • Megan says...

      One site that I think is great for this is Your Kids Table. Written by a mom of an extreme picky eater who is also an OT and feeding therapist. Tons of great ideas!

    • Oh, Monika! You are not a failure, and you are definitely not alone. In the end, what matters most is Fed Child. And I say this as the mother of an autistic daughter who literally eats about eight things, with probably only three of those in successful rotation at any given point. You’re doing your best, and your best is great.

    • Monika says...

      Thank you so much for the supportive comments, it means a lot! And thanks for the site recommendation, Megan, I’ll check it out!

    • NJ says...

      I was exactly like your picky kid! As an adult I was diagnosed with ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder). It would have caused my parents a lot less self-blame if I’d been diagnosed as a child. I work with a therapist and do CBT and have expanded my food considerably.

    • Before my toddler was born, I had grand visions of his paleo diet and how he would eat at the table and never snack between meals. This week he had Cheeze Its for breakfast on more than one occasion and goldfish crackers for dinner. You’re not a failure, or I’m failing right along with you. I must be an optimist though because I’m trying the muffin tin tonight!

  9. Lilly says...

    The best thing I’ve ever done is international night. Once a week, we have “international night,” where we cook a simple recipe from a particular country (kids often help), while we listen from music from that country (Spotify), and we either glance at a book from that country (library), or a short kids video about the country. We have a light up globe we use for decoration, and to see where the country is located. If we know someone who’s been there, we might FaceTime them to discuss it. It’s usually on Mondays, which feels special, and the kids love it. My picky 8 year old has tried everything served (even rice, which he had never tried), and tells everyone about our tradition. We’ve done Thailand, India, Mexico, France, Italy, Israel, and China so far. I am a full time working mom with two kids, and this has been doable for me.

    • Amy says...

      I don’t even have kids and I want to start doing this! I especially love the Facetime-a-friend segment :)

  10. Ava says...

    Can I just share how much I’m enjoying Jenny’s pieces? I’ve been a fan since her jarred pasta sauce article- I make pasta sauce from scratch, yet couldn’t stop reading her words. Her writing is so engrossing! More Jenny please!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Aww, thank you Ava. That’s really nice to hear. (and I’m sure your pasta sauce would beat Rao’s.) xx

  11. Becca says...

    I have brother who’s nine years younger than me, and while he wasn’t too picky, we always struggled getting him to eat enough of anything. I used to make him elaborate banana boats with chocolate chips, paper sails, etc.

    On the rare nights when my mom wasn’t home for dinner, we ate over the sink with my dad. :)

  12. S Kay says...

    Ok I saw the CUTEST AND SMARTEST mom trick out there in the park the other day.

    This mom lets her kid indulge in junk food by giving him a HANDFUL of stuff… a whole HANDFUL of chips… a whole HANDFUL of cookies.
    And guess who gets to grab the handful?! Her toddler. Even the chubbiest tiny toddler handful consists of like two to three chips or one cookie at the most, but to see the size of the grin on that kid’s face because HE gets to grab a whole HANDFUL, was amaaaazing

    • Coming in late on the comments here, but love this! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Summer says...

    What a clever idea! Pretty sure my mom is still legit mad that I was such a picky eater (DEF NO TOUCHING) and now I’ll eat allz the thingz.

    Question though: it seems like boys are less likely to grow out of this (just based on my family members and dating experiences). I know so many grown ass men that won’t eat anything green or anything “different” (and only one woman like this). Is there something to this? I think I grew out of it around the dreaded middle/high school years – if someone’s ordering a pepperoni pizza, I didn’t wanna be the chump requesting cheese like a little kid (cheese is still an unsung hero imo).

  14. Yulia says...

    Such a neat concept.

    It pains me slightly to see the paper muffin liners. I would rather clean the tin than add more waste to a landfill. :(

    • Anonygirl says...

      Yes! Or buy reusable liners.

    • Susan says...

      This is a post for busy, stressed, tired parents of picky eating toddlers. Ease is the name of the game. No one is perfect, so don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

    • Vero says...

      I would pick up some silicone liners!

  15. Bridget says...

    Oh wow, that sashimi comment is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  16. Adriana says...

    We call this muffin tin dinner and it is a hit in my home!! We only do it when daddy is away for work (so every 6 weeks or so) and I capitalize on it!! The only differences are I use the mini muffin tin and I let them pick one of the food items I put on there. They love it!

  17. Cassie F. says...

    Muffin tin lunches are a summer time staple in our house. I use the 12-count muffin pan and all three (young) kids devour it. No matter what I fill it with, it’s empty. Such a sanity saver!

  18. Jeanne says...

    Other things that work well:
    * little paper umbrellas stuck in food
    *cocktail picks instead of cutlery.
    * skewers of alternating protein/fruit
    * having “fancy” suppers

  19. Jeanne says...

    I do this for my daughter but switch it up with an ice cube tray. However there are NEVER 12 distinct items. She doesn’t mind the repeats and it’s a good way to get rid of the last few bits of leftovers.

  20. Sarah says...

    Haven’t had time to read a single comment, but my mom’s trick to get us eating was to let us eat with toothpicks! There was something hilarious and magical about eating with toothpicks, like we were eating fancy appetizers at a grownup cocktail party.

    • Brenda says...

      My mom did this too, it was called “toothpick lunch!” We loved it. This was in the 70s. I hope she didn’t leave us alone with those pointy toothpicks (you never know with my mom) but we all survived and it’s a fond memory now.

    • Laura C. says...

      The toothpicks is a trick that usually works great for me! My girls may not have an entire banana, but a sliced banana with toothpicks becomes “banalollipop” and the trick is done!

  21. riye says...

    Our mom was strict about eating what she made for our dinner and was okay with us leaving the table with no dinner if we got really stubborn.

    Baby brother and I found out that if we held our breath while eating stuff we didn’t like, we could barely taste it. So we did that for several years as small kids.

    Mom is gone now but when I think about the great meals she made every night (from scratch even when she was working) I am so ashamed that we pulled that stunt. :-(

  22. Becky in Fairburn Ohio says...

    When my son was little we called this a “funny little supper”…apple slices, spoon of peanut butter, cubes of ham & cheese, carrots, crackers, m &m’s. Now he is 49 and he makes fun of me about funny little suppers-says I just didn”t want to cook!

  23. mj says...

    warning ! our mom got us to try and eat all kinds of food i’m sure most kids won’t using this same trick (my grand mom worked in a school cafeteria with those sectioned off plates) and now neither of her 3 sons can have any foods on their plate touch or god forbid the gravy touch the peas. ha.

  24. Amanda says...

    I did not have a picky eater, but cute character Bento Boxes are a great way to transport food, and have a cute container to eat from. Mine were from ChinaTown and my daughter ( who is Chinese) loved selecting them.

  25. One other idea if anyone is really pulling their hair out about the lack of veggie consumption (though really, it will pass) – the only foods my kids can eat while watching a show are vegetables. I’ll just quickly microwave steam some broccoli with butter, or carrot strips, celery sticks etc. They’ll usually eat a whole bowl of what they would object to at the dinner table!

    • Annabelle says...

      Ha what a great idea!

  26. Omg, when she mentioned the no touching that is too real. When I was a kid, I had a plate with dividers (kind of like this but with a Peter Rabbit design on it: https://www.google.com/shopping/product/1?lsf=seller:7924,store:12205572587418251369&prds=pid:17876108174480768807,oid:875607508712626622&q=plate+with+dividers&hl=en&ei=Oj02XeWPCI7J5gKej6LoAw&lsft=gclid:EAIaIQobChMI8KeI_s3J4wIVBrbICh3e9QC0EAQYBCABEgLzO_D_BwE,gclsrc:aw.ds ) and I would REFUSE to eat anything if it wasn’t all separated and not touching. Like even if one bit of veggies got into the rice section it would be all over. I’m not sure why I had such a strong feeling about this, it’s so weird how kids’ brains work!

  27. Emma says...

    My mom played a game with us when we were little where we had to close our eyes and guess what she put in our mouth. She would do lots of tricky things like a cucumber and a grape at the same time! Haha probably a survival thing for her to get a full belly that would last until breakfast, but we thought it was just the greatest.

  28. Ellen says...

    Peg Bracken! My Mom had both I Hate to Cook and I Hate to Clean – she was raising six kids with my always working Dad. Cheers to anyone who admits either these days!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Yes, cheers to your mother and Bracken, my hero!

  29. Haylie says...

    I was a really picky eater for YEARS and it caused me so much anxiety. Some of my parents/stepparents acted like it was something I was doing intentionally, which is so wrong! I read once that kids are much more sensitive to bitter flavors, and I definitely was. Tons of things would make me gag. It was awful. All of which is to say, patience, parents! They’re *probably* not torturing you intentionally :)

  30. Andrea says...

    My son was a picky little eater, and I did that minus the muffin tray (wished I’d known them). But I discovered he’d eat anything that went in salads as long as it was all in little individual piles on his plate minus the lettuce and NOT called salad! It was a game changer back then! He’s 36 now, survived just fine but boy I give all you moms so much credit for all the creativity in encouraging healthy eating. And your picky little eaters, they grow out of it!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “as long as it was all in little individual piles on his plate minus the lettuce and NOT called salad!” = so cute :) :) :)

    • Erin Griffin says...

      SNACK PLATE! My six-year-old begs for a snack-plate dinner often, he gets it about a once a week. It’s basically a veggie, a fruit, some nuts, and some hummus and pita, just on a pretty tray, in artful piles. He loves it!

  31. Rebecca says...

    This. is. brilliant!!!

  32. Wendy says...

    I’ve been doing this with my now 4-1/2 – year-old since he was 2, and it’s the best thing in the world. We call it a “fun lunch,” because what kid doesn’t want mealtime to be fun? It was the only thing I could find to make him sit down for more than 37 seconds at the dinner table. He even loves to help pick out which foods go where, so he feels extra excited about digging in. I couldn’t believe how much better he ate like this, and it was much less frustrating for me. A couple weeks ago I decided I wasn’t going to cook the rest of the summer. I’m tired of spending my evenings slaving over a hot stove instead of outside playing with the kids, so I decided to bring fun lunches and snack boards back so we can all keep our sanity.

  33. Laetitia says...

    I’m not sure who these kids are that eat something just because it’s in a different container, mine would never be fooled by something like this!? What has worked, but it takes a while, is insisting on them having to taste just one bit of something they don’t want to eat. Usually if they still refuse, there is a consequence (no dessert), so they end up trying. If they try enough times (like 20 something!) they end up liking the food! I also try to always include something on the plate that they will like :)

    • Sasha L says...

      I do this with my preschool kids. We call it *just one bite*. The other kids will usually chime in if someone is being fussy “aw, come on! Just one bite. One bite never hurt anyone! You’ll be ok!” I remind them we are building great muscles – the you can do hard things muscles.
      The rule is one bite, has to be swallowed, and one doesn’t have to take any more than that, but you won’t get more food if you don’t clean your plate. For example: grapes, carrots, cabbage, apples, cheese. All has to be eaten if a kid wants more of something. The trick is you only give a very small bit initially, like one slice of apple, one cube if cheese etc. Kids become amazingly brave eaters when they know they can get more of the stuff they like if they’ll just eat a little bit of that cabbage 😉 Before long they forget they don’t like it.

    • Jenn says...

      We call it the “no thank you portion” in our house!

    • Kristie says...

      I was gently encouraging tasting a new food and mentioned to a preschooler in my early childhood class that it takes your tongue 12 times to taste a new food before it might like it. Without pause she confidently answered – “well, my mum said I tried this 12 times already, so I don’t like it.” I had to laugh!

  34. I think this muffin tin mix is a nice idea, because it might empower a child to choose an item of food on their own and then get used to choosing to eat and pick something out on their own! So it might inspire food curiosity? I don’t have children, but hear me out: I was the picky child everyone is describing in the comments. In fact, I was infamous in my whole family, my school, and my neighborhood! No amount of games, sweet talking, arguing, bartering and yelling worked on me, I would continue to hide food, throw it out, and lie about eating it (I was a piece of work).
    However, my grandmother managed to figure something out – she started cutting up very small bits of fruit, dates, cheese, etc in a small, and colorful, plate then placed the plate next to me while I was playing/writing/drawing, and just WALKED AWAY. No prompting or explaining. At first I hated her for it, but as I played, I would get hungry, and curious about the plate, so I would pick at the food. I didn’t always finish it, but since then, small plates of tiny samples of foods would appear around me when I wasn’t looking. Cut peaches would appear next to tea sets, and toy horses ate halva instead of hay. Somehow, I would eventually explore and eat them at my own pace. What I distinctly remember is that I felt un-pressured about eating the food, no one made a fuss about me not eating and suddenly I felt empowered to explore it and try it out on my own (without adults over my shoulder).
    I don’t know if that was helpful, but maybe my little story might give some light from the picky eater’s perspective.

    • Jules says...

      I love this approach. After having a history of eating disorders and now raising a baby girl, I want to take the healthiest approach to food possible with her. If need be in the future, I will make sure to give her the option of trying things on her own, at her own pace!

    • Sioban says...

      This makes me cry, its such a wonderful story! I have a fussy 4 year old, he’s not too bad but he won’t eat fruit or salad and rarely tries new things. I’m going to start leaving some food around amd hope his greedy little sister won’t get to it first!

    • Emma says...

      This is such a beautiful comment! I am going to have to remember this if I have a picky eater! I remember having a lot of shame-related anxieties as a child, so anything I can do to not inflict that on my future children is so important to me. :)

    • I did something similar with my then toddler son! He had several months when he refused to eat any meat. But he was always eating half dried bits of food that had fallen on the little shelf beneath his high chair seat. So i started putting little pieces of meat on this shelf on the high chair just before or after dinner, and he would happily go there by himself and eat it all and look so happy about being sneaky. Crazy toddlers….

    • Shakti Wood says...

      Hello! We have a good (2yo) eater and I feel like your grandmother’s “take it or leave it” strategy is related to ours (but not saying it’s going to work universally). Our approach is: “Here is some food. We’re all eating it, but you can do whatever you like, no biggie.” We try to ensure that she doesn’t get special food. She doesn’t have to eat anything or everything and when she declares she’s “all done” or “I don’t like it” there are no questions asked, or any debate, even if there is a lot left on the plate. We’ve found that generally there are no issues! You just have to play it cool in the beginning and don’t let them know that you secretly care.

  35. April says...

    I love this and will definitely try! This absolutely addresses my current meal time struggles with a 3.5 year old. Happy to read about this any day – love the pro tips, even just commiseration!

  36. Em says...

    Thank you from a mom whose 20-month-old would only eat mayonnaise (MAYONNAISE!!!) for dinner a few nights ago.

    • Sarah says...

      Hahahahahaha I’m dying with laughter. Kids are SO WEIRD. You’re a great mom and you’re doing a good job.

    • Christy says...

      This made me burst out laughing. Hats off to the moms who nurture our little people, even when they insist on eating condiments only.

    • Laura C. says...

      Em, you have all my support!

  37. Erica says...

    Cool! Sort of the same idea as toddler plates with sections

  38. Anna says...

    This is so cute :) Trying this for afternoon snack time

    My mom keeps me sane when I get too caught up and worried about stuff like picky eating/potty training..
    Her response to everything :
    ” Have you ever seen a grown ass man using diapers?”
    “Have ever seen a grown ass man eating Goldfish crackers only?!”
    Meaning it’s just a phase and he will be over it..😬

    • Meredith says...

      Hahaha your mom sounds awesome!

    • nicole says...

      This made me LOL. I pictured a grown ass man in a diaper eating goldfish crackers.

    • Sasha L says...

      Same for breastfeeding…… For cosleeping…….. For wanting to be carried…….
      I love your mom!

  39. Stephaine says...

    Love this idea for myself, lots of random goodies, makes me feel as though I am snacking, but in a good way.

  40. Rebecca says...

    My three children all love the muffin tin lunch! I bought a pack of 12 silicone wrappers to cut down on waste and started using them on a plate. Sometimes I serve the food under the upside-down cup. My eldest (5 years old) enjoyed the suspense of it so much that on Mother’s Day, she served me breakfast in bed on a plate, under the muffin cups (berries, egg, nuts, etc). It’s the little things that are often the most fun!

    • SarahD. says...

      This is awesome for my kids 4, 6 and 8. Thank you for sharing!!

    • Kim says...

      Look for @kids.eat.in.color or https://kidseatincolor.com/

      Great tips for picky eaters.

      I like how she encourages parents to let their kids listen to their bodies.

  41. Nikki says...

    My little guy has just started solids so not fussy yet, (thank goodness) but love this idea! thanks.
    I also think it could easily be incorporated into meal prep for the whole family, so you are not stuck making 12 dinners. For example, steam up a whole broccoli and eat it with the crispy chickpeas and avocado for a delicious grown up take to work lunch after feeding small amounts to your toddler for dinner.

  42. Mullica says...

    Is it bad that I, as a 29yr old adult also enjoy eating like this? Lol especially in the warmer months when my appetite is just not there.

  43. Sisi says...

    Please, please, PLEASE read French Kids Eat Everything. Featured here sometime back. Written by an Oxford scholar, it’s one mom’s tale of moving to France for a year and teaching her children how to appreciate and taste food. Such a game changer! When Jo featured this book, I made a mental note to read it before switching to solids. I did. Baby eats everything from red caviar to spinach (two favorites). Doesn’t mean we don’t have our days, but when playmates come over and won’t touch veggies, mine is eating beats, tomatoes and avocado in a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. Jo, a personal thank you for featuring such a worthwhile read.

    • Charitie says...

      I absolutely agree!! I read Growing Up Bebé by Pamela Druckerman and both of my children eat exactly how you describe. I think one big reason why the French strategy works (and why the muffin tin idea is appealing) is because of variety. Variety of taste, texture, color. Often times babies/toddlers are given bland, simple foods and so they always end up choosing whatever tastes best by itself, which ends up being sweets.

    • Hilary says...

      I second (or third?!) this! This book completely changed how I approached the transition to solids and now we have a very adventurous 2-year old eater who loves indian food, zoodles, peanut sauce, roasted veggies, and, of course, chicken nuggets, to name a few :) The two big things that stuck out to me:

      1) French parents believe they have a responsibility to cultivate their children’s palates, so they take food education and exploration seriously, rather than just give up. In other words, start early, try often, and keep trying with new and interesting foods, even if it doesn’t work the first time or two.

      2) There is a separation between food’s taste and its texture. Not many people – including adults – just love noshing on plain broccoli florets. So try it pureed, sautéed, roasted, with hummus, in pesto, you get the idea. I used to puree veggies with breastmilk until they were drinkable soup to expose my daughter to the taste, then we transitioned to mushy versions, then I combined with other foods, and now she happily eats roasted brocc on her own…and lots of other veggies. She’s 2.5 and we started the “education and cultivation” early and it has totally paid off. I give this book to all my friends who are parents-to-be!

  44. Dee says...

    So this sort of thing massively appeals to me …sadly not to my toddler. She’s much more of a eat anything so long as it’s covered in romansco sauce/ cheese sauce/ gravy kind of girl. Not so instagramable!

  45. Andrea says...

    We call this happy hour! My son, now 7 1/2 still occasionally asks me to prepare a happy hour for him! Small bites of a variety of options seems to do the trick and I always sneak in one sweet option which makes it even easier to get the other healthy stuff into him!

  46. Agnes says...

    My old dad understood this way back in the 70’s. We would cry from our beds that we were ‘hungry Daddy!!’ and he would come back with a sip of water and a tiny scrap of cheese that would barely touch the sides of a mouse’s stomach. We would eat it happily and go to sleep.

  47. AC says...

    Honestly I forget to do this. We have plates shaped like cafeteria trays with small separated sections.

    But my main issue is that he is at a private daycare/pre-K and gets fed a full meal at 4:30pm so unless it is something he absolutely loves (tacos) he doesn’t really eat. It’s been a frustration of ours for the past 3 years! I am hoping he comes home hungrier once he starts kindergarten.

    • Sara B says...

      Oh gosh…what an inconvenient meal time!

  48. Kay says...

    I do this with toddler lunch. I have metal bento boxes with 5 compartments each and I prep 2 at a time so I don’ t have to make lunch every day. Today he has a scoop of farro with olive oil, hard boiled egg (no yolk please) with everything-but-the-bagel seasoning, some strawberries, a small cheese sandwich, some broccoli. Other frequent foods: pretzels, a hidden gummy bear under some cut grapes or blueberries, cubed cheese or salami, a few meatballs, rotisserie chicken, cold pasta. I find the small quantities of everything make it okay to add some “junk” food without worrying too much about nutrition and my 4 year old loves it. That box comes home empty every day. Also, silicone muffin liners are better than paper (waterproof!) and ecofriendly. My set has lasted me 3 years already.

  49. Lindsey says...

    this is a game changer – we call them “nibble trays” and throw in any food we can find around the kitchen – the kids go crazy for it.

  50. Heidi says...

    When my daughter was being picky, I would turn the meal into a “picnic” and have her set up a blanket and a stuffed animal or two on the floor and eat there. Somehow she always fell for that one. Haha!

    • Heidi says...

      Edit to add, I would do this with finger type foods, not like spaghetti or anything messy. A plate with hummus, veggies, crackers and fruit with some deli meat or quesadillas was her jam.

    • Carolyn says...

      When we were having a really busy day, my mom would make us a “picnic lunch,” too — a little bit of everything that was in the fridge or cabinets, in little separate stacks so we could graze — and it was always so exciting :)

  51. Marlena says...

    When my kids were teeny we lived in Japan and they were served their meals just like this everywhere we ate. And the kids would always try everything. Such a clever idea. :)

  52. Lucy says...

    When my kids were that age, we sent them to Montessori with a travel version of the muffin tin: https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Silicone-Baby-Storage-Container/dp/B0789J4W3Z

    Worked like a charm!

    Now that they are headed to kindergarten, we are using the five-slot planetbox lunch box, which we love. It has slots for a veggie, fruit, protein, snack, and a tiny sweet. Same idea, but on a bigger scale and so durable! https://www.planetbox.com/products/planetbox-rover-lunchbox?variant=20636936321

  53. Jenny T. says...

    We sometimes have rainbows for dinner, which my four year old loves and is a great way to a) not cook, b) clean out the odds and ends in the fridge and c) get her to eat something other than mac and cheese. We basically open the fridge, pick out one thing of each color (e.g. red watermelon, orange cheddar, yellow corn, green cucumber, blue blueberries, and purple plums), slice everything and put it on a plate in roughly the shape a rainbow. Serve with a side of hummus and pita and you’ve got an easy, healthy meal that’s perfect in summer when produce is at its prime and it’s too hot to turn on the oven.

    • alexis says...

      I love this idea! Trying it ASAP.

    • Lisa says...

      Yes! Rainbow dinner is our daughter’s favourite meal. She loves to help us decide on the food for each colour. Her participation in the prep work also gets her excited to eat up. It’s a winner of a dinner at our house.

  54. Elizabeth says...

    Genius!

  55. Hannah R. says...

    I recently got a Bentgo lunch box for my 3-year-old and all of a sudden lunches are more fun for both of us! Who knew selecting just the right amount of food for each compartment was so fun? I’ve started taking pictures of selections I put together and added them to a folder on my phone so once preschool starts in the fall I’ll be ready!

  56. Leanne says...

    My kids are obsessed with picnics. I make a kid-friendly charcuterie board – salami, prosciutto, cheese, veggies, fruit, crackers, pickles, olives. They scarf it down – someone made a good point about scarcity earlier – and it feels like something really special.

    • Emily says...

      Kiki, you’re a genius! I have those nut bowls and will be trying this tonight!

  57. Caroline says...

    What a timely piece! I had plopped down on the sofa with my phone after giving in to my daughters “lunch” demands of yet another cup of milk. Then I saw this post and leapt back up to create a little muffin tin feast. So far my three year old has finished the snow peas, grape tomatoes, and strawberries is working her way through the cubbed Lara Bar. She’s so far ignored the pasta and cheese cubes which are her normal staples! Thank You Jenny!

  58. Anni says...

    Oh wow!
    I will try that tonight.
    Greetings from a very frustrated mum who once loved to cook and now just waits for „oh no, not THAT again, urgh…“ and is apparently surrounded by mums whose children will try and love everything from oysters to stinky french cheeys. Well.

    • Lorena says...

      I feel your pain! You are not alone!

  59. Laura says...

    I really like this idea for its appeal and variety, but is it heinous for me to say that it makes me a little disappointed?
    I really thought the Bringing Up Bébé attitude of “don’t give into your child’s antics” and “they’re testing you– they’re just trying to get what they want” was on the upswing! From my understanding, if you do not offer your child anything else they WILL eat their supper, they just might not eat it until the next day at breakfast. If a child is hungry, they will eat.
    I am definitely going to use this beautiful idea for my next picnic or for a movie snack, but will do my very best not go through the effort of making it into a meal –different from the rest of my family’s– only to see that my toddler just eats the macaroni.

    • Sara B says...

      We frequently use the “this is what’s for dinner, take it or leave it” method, and overall my kids generally eat a decent variety of food. However, there are things I know my kids 100% do not like, and I certainly have foods that I won’t touch (ahem, raw onions). I feel like these would be great for a meal where your kids like 75% of the ingredients, and you can deconstruct elements of the dinner you are already making without putting in a ton of extra work. Just my own thoughts :)

    • Anna says...

      I grew up eating the same food at the same dinner table as my parents, and it’s always struck me as odd when parents cook different meals for just for the kids — though I can totally understand the worry/desperation a parent might feel when a child refuses to eat. I do wonder how that pickiness starts though, and if maybe treating food as “no big deal” from the get-go would help. As a little kid, I used to not particularly enjoy eating and I do recall a few times when my parents wouldn’t let me leave the dinner table until I had eaten a few more bites of something, but overall they didn’t treat food/mealtime as this big challenge that we needed to work through. As I got a little older (like 9 or 10), I started to love food and happily ate whatever was on the table. I suppose some people inherently enjoy food more than others, but I just don’t remember myself or my fellow kiddos being so picky back in the day!

    • cg says...

      I think it’s a little bit of everything. Meaning, there’s no one right philosophy when it comes to child rearing. What works for one, doesn’t work for another. So yes, don’t give in to your child, if s/he is hungry they will eat. But let’s face it, even as adults we like things to be changed up: new flavors/new restaurants to try, or a different take on parm chicken… so I see it the same for kids. I remember lamenting to my mom about how my child was finally eating peas, so I was giving it to her in at least one daily meal and suddenly she stopped liking it. What gives? My mom replied “You don’t even like eating the same left overs more than once, don’t you think your toddler might be sick of peas?” Hahaha! For me, it was about learning and teaching flexibility. Yes, I won’t make an extra meal… but yes, I will alter a part of it or make something slightly different if I think the return is there.

    • KL says...

      I agree with you, Laura. Although, maybe this could be a good way to migrate from “giving in” to “standing firm?”

    • Linda says...

      Hi Laura, I thought this post was more about creative presentation (and sneaking in new foods) than having to make completely different food for your children. To each his own… each family can choose their own battles. It’s great that you know where the line rests for your family, but this line is different for everyone. (And in my case different between me and my husband, which probably warrants a blog post tip in itself! What to do when you can no longer agree to disagree?)

    • Emily says...

      I don’t think it’s “giving in” necessarily. You’re still choosing what to provide, and it can be a selection of the adult dinner choices, maybe with an extra fruit or familiar food thrown in. It’s just about mixing up the presentation to be more kid-friendly. They’re drawn to the novelty of it, and like she says, it makes new foods less intimating.

    • M says...

      This is not “giving in” to a child’s demands – it is making sure they eat something, even if they won’t eat everything. And, my child will not eat food he doesn’t like – no matter if that’s the only food. He will just go hungry…and then cranky….and I’m not in the habit of starving my child to prove a point. Meals like this are intended to make eating fun, while getting kids to try the food you want them to eat. For example, if you know your kid won’t eat baked pasta with meat and olives, you can give them the exact same meal, but with the olives in one section, meat in another, cheese in another, pasta in another. It exposes them to all the foods without you making two meals, and without them going to bed hungry. If you can get your child to eat the same meal as everyone else in your family, that’s great!! But don’t judge those of us who have picky kids and are just trying to make sure they stay healthy while also trying to expand the foods they will eat.

    • Maaike says...

      I don’t think kids are testing their parents, they are just testing their boundaries and it is up to the parents to set these boundaries in a way that is loving and feels right for that particular child and parent. (Good for her, not for me?)
      Also, I am blessed with a mostly very hungry and not-so-picky child, so I get away with knowing that if he does not eat, he is not hungry. But not all kids are like that, and if this takes the anxiety away for some moms and makes the todddler try new different things, why not? It seems a lot of fun and super easy to throw together, so I look forward to trying it! (and I do wonder if serving last night’s dinner for breakfast actually works, doesn’t that make eating seem like a struggle and a chore even more for a picky kid?)

    • Jessica says...

      I can only assume not everyone is strictly following the Bringing up Bebe approach, so if you do have a picky eater on your hand, this seems like a great way to begin to expand their palate and let them learn to enjoy trying/eating foods again. Ideally, you can then segue back into eating meals everyone is eating.

      I think it’s important to be kind and compassionate with parenting advise and not assume that any one way is best. Options are best, and this is a great option.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      these are all such thoughtful points and approaches. personally, i used to think that all kids should eat what their parents served, etc., but now that i’ve met a bunch of sweet kids on the autism spectrum, who have sensory issues and find certain foods virtually impossible to eat, i feel so much more empathetic toward kids and adults with a hard time eating/trying foods and expanding their palates.

    • E says...

      i read that book twice before i had my daughter and i swore i’d follow it to a tee. Fast forward to now…we feed our 1.5 year old daughter and put her to bed before we make dinner for ourselves. It’s the only way for me to stay sane (I refuse to go crazy with meal prep on the weekends). I usually resort to a quesadilla, meatballs, pasta, etc and some fruit and veggies (sauted zucchini or frozen peas). We get out of work and pick up at 5:45. From there it’s a mad rush to get home, give her dinner, spend a little time with her, give her a bath, and then put her to bed by 7. To anyone who has figured out how to include making and sitting down for a family meal within that time frame, please tell me your secrets!!!

    • alexis says...

      When my oldest was one and would happily eat ANYTHING (falafel! raw sea urchin! tacos! ramen! all the veggies!), I was feeling a little proud (maybe a little inwardly smug even). Well, she became a toddler and suddenly anything that wasn’t mac and cheese or a fried egg became suspect and her first comment on sitting down was “Ew, that’s yucky” even if she hadn’t tasted the food yet. We sing the song from Daniel Tiger “you have to try new food ‘cos it might taste good!” and that usually gets us a couple bites (more if she decides she likes the food). But if I let her skip dinner to make a point, then she throws a screaming fit at bedtime that she’s hungry. If I let the baby skip dinner to prove a point, she wakes up early the next morning because she’s hungry. Add to that the stress of two working parents stressed out and trying to navigate pickup and dinner and bedtime in an abbreviated time frame and I say anything that can make dinner fun and pleasurable and just take some of the pressure off so that we can focus on enjoying each other’s company – seems like only good things to me.

    • Charlotte says...

      Americans generally have a funky relationship to food–we did unleash fast-food on the world, after all! In a culture obsessed with over-eating, under-eating, and fad diets, it only makes sense that we think that food has to be made “fun” for kids beyond the fact that eating (quality) food in and of itself is a completely pleasurable sensory experience! I think we as Americans tend to go overboard obsessing over things that are a fundamentally natural and vital part of our existence. Showing your kids how to grapple with a world that isn’t tied to their every want and desire and simply enjoy the little pleasures in life is a central part of being a parent. I think we all need to just cool off on it, Laura’s right, kids will actually just eat when they are hungry.

    • Marie says...

      As a child picky eater, this thinking makes me sad. I definitely wasn’t trying to test limits or just trying to get my way with my parents. Of course, as people have mentioned every child is different but my parents telling me I had to eat or starve with foods I couldn’t stomach just made me cry at the dinner table and I never actually ate the thing they were trying to make me eat. The whole thing also stressed my mom too with doctors telling her I didn’t weigh enough and that led to nutritionist visits and the whole thing was bad for both of us. I certainly don’t blame my parents, but I felt so much pressure around what I was eating. I’m almost 30, and still have a lot of food anxiety.

    • A says...

      Laura, Emily, as the mother of a three year old who will literally starve herself for days rather than an eat a ‘scary’ or ‘unsafe’ food, your comments smack of ignorance and smugness. I am genuinely in despair about my daughter’s diet but her anxieties are real. You haven’t got a clue.

    • Anna says...

      Come back to me about my ‘disappointing’ parenting when you have a kid of your own with even mild special needs ok?

    • Laura says...

      It’s too bad that several mothers think I was PERSONALLY targeting them with my (rather broad) opinion. I would never say this to a parent with a child with special needs or to someone with severe food anxiety.
      My opinion was for the parents I know who serve 4 different meals at 3 different dinner times EVERY DAY in a desperate hope their child will eat something put in front of them; They are letting their children control their lives and it is most apparent around meal times.
      “Come at me” when I have a child with special needs? I am a working mother and my 7 year-old transgendered child is wildly picky. It is HARD and we are dealing with it. Does my opinion really merit responses of that nature?

    • Lin says...

      Laura, I hear what you are saying. Because of my husband’s job, I have raised my kids in various countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia and Thailand. In poorer countries, children eat the same thing their parents eat — because they are hungry. They aren’t given a choice and there are few to no snacks. Also, they often have just two meals a day, morning and evening — but they are large meals. When I visit friends in Canada, I am always surprised by how picky most of the kids are, and how they need their food all cut up and separated like this, rather than eating a cooked meal, like a stew or soup or curry. I have observed that most parents in North America give their children too many snacking opportunities. The children are literally NOT HUNGRY at mealtimes, and that is one of the main reasons why they do not eat. They are smart. They had some teddy grahams and grapes at 10am, they know that they can hold out until 3pm for some more yummy snack-type foods. … Having said all this, I have also met poor women in Africa who complain about a child that doesn’t eat, so some children are just very picky eaters.

  60. Laura says...

    My mom used to make this kind of thing for us. She called it a “California plate” since almost everything on it was either raw, fresh, or a dip. I guess it’s what us Michiganders assume sophisticated Californians eat–hummus, pita chips, raw veggies, mango slices, avocado, etc. The name stuck and now my NYC kids called this sort of appetizers for dinner a California plate too! ;)

    • cg says...

      As a Californian, I find this ^ warmly amusing.

  61. Amelia says...

    This is how I do lunches for my preschooler! We have a bento-box type lunch box and I usually just assemble a range of protein, fruit, veggies, crackers, etc…. it’s like placing more bets on the table, hah. It actually makes it kinda fun!

  62. Stacie says...

    My kids will eat almost anything I put on a “monkey platter.” Little piles of fruits, veggies, cheese cubes, crackers, grilled chicken, rolls of ham, marshmallows, popcorn, cut up Larabars, etc. They just grab it like hungry little monkeys, and since they don’t get their own plates, the scarcity mindset creates urgency I can’t manufacture any other way!

    • Ingrid says...

      What a great idea! Scarcity, indeed!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      monkey platter — such a cute name!

    • Ellie says...

      My grandmother used to do “surprise plate”. It was literally whatever was left in the fridge but no one found out until the plate was revealed. Always a hit. I totally plan to do this with my kids.

  63. Kelly says...

    Ummm…I might do this for myself when I just want to eat a bunch of random things for a light dinner! :D Crackers, goat cheese, nuts, fruit, prosciutto, and a crunchy veg!

    • Maywyn says...

      Kelly’s tin sounds perfect!
      I will try the muffin tin as well. It will be great for a picnic.

    • Kathleen says...

      Yes, totally! Especially in the hot summer months, I am all about this kind of thing for dinner. Yum.

    • Lauren E. says...

      I do this all the time! A friend laughed and said, “Toddler tapas, huh?” It’s my favorite way to eat.

  64. Amy says...

    Looks like my kiddo has a date with a muffin tray tonite… Pray for me!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha good luck!!!

    • Roxana says...

      Haha! Me too, please!

      This is what my 2 1/2 year old ate yesterday. No joke.

      Breakfast: half a small bowl of yogurt
      Lunch: handfuls of “chickpea veggie crisps” that my mom randomly brought over. I guess they’re from Costco? Not sure. They are kind of addictive, so I’ll give him that.
      Dinner: Potato chips. POTATO CHIPS. From the BBQ we had with the neighbors. Not burgers or hotdogs, both of which he typically inhales. Just potato chips. For dinner.

  65. Margaret says...

    Such a great idea! I’m a toddler mom and have done a similar thing in an ice cube tray. Still only 6ish things but repeated in even smaller amounts in the tiny spots. Bonus points if you make it a picnic and let them eat on the floor ;)