Let’s Talk: Picky Eaters

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Dinnertime.

This is an old picture, taken from the days when my babies were still small enough to sit in booster seats at the dinner table (the date on the photo is Feb. 10, 2009), but it still serves my point very well: my kids can be very, very picky eaters.

Really, it’s only a couple of them who are still pretentious about food. The other two are much better about eating, but are still picky every once in awhile. I’m really into serving healthy meals most of the time and sometimes those meals include things that typical children might not eat. All four of the kids love (!) broccoli, for instance, but I cannot get Emma to eat any kind of fruit and Jaylen only wants to take PB&J for lunch. Emma prefers dairy above all else: cheddar cheese cubes, Cracker Cuts, string cheese, yogurt. Jaylen doesn’t like yogurt, he won’t eat things like english muffin pizzas or pigs in a blanket at lunch because they’re cold. Jenna prefers fruit above all else and actually always makes really healthy choices, she has a very healthy appetite, but I cannot get her to eat very much at lunch. Jaiden eats just about everything, but wouldn’t eat the english muffin pizzas, either, and she hates tomato soup.

I’m just touching on this a little bit, but you get the idea. Four kids, four different palates, four different lists of dos and don’ts.

So let’s talk about this: how do you get your picky kids to eat their lunch?

I’m an advocate of giving kids choices, of sending them with food they like in hopes they eat it, but I am getting frustrated right now. I’ve been making lunches for 3-4 children every day since the beginning of August and I’m not only beginning to run out of ideas, but also out of patience. I’ve let them choose things for the menu, I’ve let them pack their own lunches, I’ve let them help me prepare bentos, I’ve let them decide between things I’m considering while I pack; each of these suggestions works one day and not the next (plus I really don’t have time to let four kids dictate their desires in the midst of a busy morning or evening). I just need a little less stressful situation with the lunches.

How do YOU get your children to eat? Did it take awhile for your children to get used to healthier/different choices in their lunch boxes? Are they over it now?

If you have any ideas or tips please comment and let me know!

The Monster Mash

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Monster Mash bentoA quickie little share today:

I was browsing Pinterest and showed my children some of my bento pins; my son LOVED the monster face sandwiches he saw, so this morning we gave it a go.

Yesterday Jaiden forgot her lunch (pigs in a blanket), so she just took yesterday’s lunch, but Jaylen and Jenna have monster faces! These were SO fun to do. The sandwiches are PB & strawberry jam; Jenna has cheese and grape eyeballs and Jaylen has banana and grape eyeballs; the eyebrows are made from slivers of baby carrots.

They also have more grape “eyeballs,” string cheese and broccoli; Jenna has a blueberry cereal bar and Jaylen has chocolate-covered graham crackers.

The kids had toasted cinnamon raisin bagels and grapes for breakfast and Jaylen decided to eat the peel off of his grapes, then put one in his monster’s mouth (he said it’s another eyeball).

We’re having an issue with the kids actually eating some of their food for various reasons; I hope today the majority is eaten. These are too, too cute!

PS – I would not recommend using bananas as the base for the eyeballs. They got slippery and so did the halved grape, which I tried to adhere using jam, and the eyeballs were sliding off of the bananas. Jenna’s cheese-grape combo worked a little better.

Beginning our days

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Yummy breakfast!

This is what a Monday morning looks like in our crazy house. Notice the smiles? Yeah, they were happy to smile it up for the camera and stall a little more this morning, making us a teensy bit late that didn’t even count against us. It was one of those mornings here, a morning where we just couldn’t pull it all together in time no matter how much nagging I did.

One of the big changes we’ve implemented this school year, in addition to packed lunches, is a sit-down breakfast. It’s not a sitcom breakfast, where we’re all sitting down together, slowly beginning our day; truth be told, our mornings are usually like that scene in Home Alone where the family realizes they woke up late* and runs around the house in fast forward. Darin and I don’t usually sit down and eat breakfast at home, honestly, but the children have done it this year and not only is it a better start for them, but it’s much nicer on my car too in that there are no crumbs, no Pop-Tart wrappers, no crushed bits of cereal in my back seat.

Every single morning Jaiden asks what we’re having for breakfast and it’s really nice to have an answer for her instead of telling her to grab something out of freezer or pantry and having her microwave, toast or bag whatever it is she ends up with (and that goes for the others too). It’s nice not to send Darin out the door with waffles for Emma every single day. It’s just nice to do it and they really seem to like it, too.

What I’m really telling you? Is that this school year I’ve decided to torture myself by making three meals a day for five or six people (we only have Emma half of each week, plus every other weekend). It’s exhausting. But it really helps to have a plan.

Menu plan - August 21-27

I’ve been meal planning for several years and it is wonderful for its organizational and financial benefits. A few months ago I bought a magnetic tabbed organizer from Target and I love it; I use it every single day between our menu, the schools’ lunch menus and Darin and the kids’ sports schedules. Our menu usually goes in front and now that more than half the house can read, they know what we’re having for every single meal.

And let me clarify: Just because it says we’re having pancakes for dinner doesn’t mean it will happen. I didn’t feel like fooling with pancakes tonight, so we had pasta instead and maybe pancakes tomorrow. We’re also switching our Tuesday and Thursday breakfasts so we can eat waffles for breakfast before Emma goes back to her mom’s house (waffles are one of her faves).

As you can imagine, mornings are usually hectic around here.

In the mornings I’m up and making lunches (if I didn’t get it done the night before) or breakfasts or taking a shower. I wake the kids up at 6:30 a.m. and we’re usually coming downstairs by 6:40-6:45 a.m.; this is when Daddy gets up. If Emma is here, she goes into the bathroom to brush her hair and teeth first, once she is dressed, so that she will be ready to go; when she is done she sits down, has breakfast and Darin rushes her out the door by 7:05 a.m. The other three kids ride with me (they go to a different school than Emma does, in a different part of our area), so they get a little more time to eat in the mornings.

Jenna's lunch 8/22

While they eat I do my hair, take pictures of their lunches, try on a million things before deciding on something I don’t really want to wear, listen to the Today Show, tell them to leave the cats alone fortheloveofallthingsholy, nag them to stop talking and eat, nag them to pick their belongings up off of the floors and to clean up after themselves, nag them to remember their lunch boxes and milk money. I try to leave the house by 7:40 a.m. Some days, like today, I am writing checks for school or trying to get a knot out of someone’s shoelace or refereeing a disagreement on the way to school (all while I talk to my friend on the phone); other days it’s a quiet 15-minute trip through the country and into town for school.

At 8 a.m., when I drop them off, I sigh. My mornings are all about five other people and two kittens from 5:30-8. And the rest of my commute is all about me, all about quiet. All four minutes of it.

Rox!

And that’s how we do mornings.

(I know you love the gratuitous share of my baby, Rox. He was/is named Roxy, then we found out the cat we thought was a she is really a he, so now he’s just Rox. And this is him chillin’ in the windowsill while the kidlets eat breakfast.)

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(* I don’t generally wake up late anymore. My cats are my alarm clock and they are usually walking up and down my sleeping body at 5:30 a.m.)

Meal planning template from here.

Elvis Week: Let me be your teddy bear

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Let me be your teddy bearI just realized that my last Elvis week post was never posted! Shame on me.

How’s this for unimaginative? Yeah. It was Friday, I needed to go to the grocery store and I was out of ideas, really.

Our theme? Of course, Teddy Bear!

I printed out a cute little teddy bear to use as a template for sandwiches or cheese or something, but my unpreparedness won and I ended up just making the kids PB&J with an American cheese teddy face (yeah, that’s a teddy bear face), White Cheddar Cheez-Its, leftover Elvis muffins, carrot sticks and Babybel cheese. This is Jaiden’s lunch and if I’m remembering correctly, the Cheez-Its were actually her afternoon snack, but they fit right inside her lunch box so in they went.

I’m not going to apologize for not sending “cutesy” lunches every single day. Sometimes you either just don’t have it in you or sometimes it just doesn’t work. I will say that I am very much looking forward to getting more cookie cutters and picks! That will happen once I can finally rebound from summer childcare (which is expensive if you have three kids).

Elvis Week: That’s all right, Mama

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With limited bento supplies – no adorable little picks, only a few cutters – it’s really difficult to do an Elvis-themed bento week. It’s probably difficult to do an entire week of Elvis-themed lunches as it is, supplies or not. Today it was more about letting go than decorating.

Today we took it back to where it all began, back to July 1954 when slap bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore agreed to conduct a recording session with a young Elvis Presley. They did this though neither was really overly impressed with the young man from Lauderdale Courts apartments. After recording a few less than stellar country songs, the trio took a break and Elvis began cutting up and playing Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)”. Bill and Scotty joined in, Sam Phillips recorded it and history was made at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee: rock ‘n’ roll was born.

(As a sidenote: I know Bill Black’s children, Louis Black and Nancy Black Shockley. They live in my county and I’ve interviewed them several times for stories on their father; Bill Black passed away in October 1965.)

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So what does this all have to do with today’s lunches?

The kids wanted to make their own lunches. And I let them. Because what would it hurt?

Well, that’s all right, mama
That’s all right for you
That’s all right mama, just anyway you do
Well, that’s all right, that’s all right.
That’s all right now mama, anyway you do

We had mini sub sandwiches on the menu and they wanted to eat crackers and cheese again. But allowing them to make their own lunches gave them a buy-in and it makes them want to eat it because they’re proud of what they made.

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Each varies a little bit, but they all made ham, cheese and pepperoni sandwiches and they each have two pickles. The older two really got creative with theirs, making faces using pepperoni, mustard and cheese. Jaiden and Jaylen have Reese’s Pieces for their treat and they have strawberries, raspberries and grapes in addition to a bag of chips. Jenna didn’t want candy, she wanted marshmallows and Annie’s Chocolate Bunny Grahams and grapes.

As you can see, they used a lot more packaging than I do (though I do put pickles in bags usually so the juice doesn’t get all over everything) and they wanted to wrap their sandwiches in wax paper like they do at Subway (totally their doing!), but that’s all right, Mama, right?

Elvis Week: How grape thou art

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Today’s lunches were not quite as elaborate as yesterday’s lunches were, but I still managed to tie in our Elvis theme with the crackers, cheese and fruit we had on the menu. And it’s kind of a stretch, but whateva.

Today I went with one of Elvis’ gospel hits, “How Great Thou Art.” Or, how grape thou art because they have grapes (and yes, I have actually won a first place award for headlines if you were wondering). They also have reduced fat Ritz crackers, pepperoni, Colby Jack cheese and a quarter of a crispy rice treat that my husband bought and they all love.

The star cheese comes from the lyric “I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder …” and, ironically, the thunder began rolling this morning as I was cutting the stars out, so I know Elvis & Jesus approve.

Told ya it was a stretch, but I couldn’t give up on The King just three days into Elvis Week.

Elvis Week: Elvis lives!

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Being so close to Memphis it’s hard to escape Elvis fever. My nine-year-old is a big fan of his music (she doesn’t know much about him yet, so she doesn’t know that some parts of his character are not role model worthy for kids, we just focus on Elvis as The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll for now) and with today being the anniversary of his death, we had to commemorate The King.

For breakfast we had Elvis muffins (banana muffins with peanut butter and chocolate chips – mmm!) and those also made their way into the lunches. Jaiden also has the letters E and P for his initials (Jenna has 1, 2 and 3 for “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready …”) and under the letters are dried blueberry “blue suede shoes.” Her sandwich is Elvis’ favorite, peanut butter and banana (we skipped the fried part), with fruit leather hair and eyebrows (the lips were too difficult to cut out of my fruit leather scraps – they looked more like a beak that his famous lip curl). I used a fork to etch “Elvis,” music notes and “1935-1977” into the banana peel and it will be dark brown by lunchtime.

Jaiden LOVES it. The other kids had similar lunches in that they each had the same sandwiches and each had a banana, but due to their tendency to be finicky, some had muffins, some had carrots, some had grapes, some had Babybel cheese. I am totally over hearing “I don’t like this!” all the time; my middle two kids are the worst with it (my bookends are pretty easy to please with food).

The fruit leather hair, I think, really makes this bento! While searching for inspiration photos last night I ran across Elvis hair clipart and printed it out (sized to fit) to trace on fruit leather with a knife. It was super easy that way.I should have cut the sandwich into just halves (instead of quarters) though.

I think this is my favorite bento so far. I’m super proud of it. Jaiden told me, “Mama, you’re so creative with food …” Not entirely, but one day I hope to be.