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