“Mom, I’m hungry”, “Mom, I’m bored”, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat”, “Mom, can I have ice cream, cookies, chips, __________, etc.”.
Ahhhh, the familiar sounds of summer. As a working mom, even I could be tempted to stock the pantry with quick packaged snacks that the kids can grab themselves or can be unwrapped and served in a matter of seconds. After all, they may be on vacation, but my work life must go on. But none of us really want our kiddos growing up on artificial colors, preservatives and chemicals…
Encouraging kids to eat healthy foods can be a challenge any time of year, especially during the summer when they are ravenous after visits to the neighborhood pool or just bored. I’ve tried lots of different ways to easily add more fruits and veggies into my family’s diet, but the best and simplest hack I discovered came from my time spent working in traditional Italian Restaurants. At that time, my cooking skills and nutrition knowledge were limited, but I still wanted my then 4 and 6 year old’s to eat healthfully and experience new foods. I enjoyed trying to recreate classic Italian dishes that I saw being prepared in the restaurant kitchen at home, so I began making antipasto platters, a traditional family style appetizer spread typically filled with meats, cheeses, olives, fruit spreads and breads.
TRADITIONAL ANTIPASTO PLATTER
My antipasto platters didn’t look nearly as elegant as this, and the artisan meats and cheeses were way out of my budget, so I started loading large serving platters with anything I had on hand. Deli turkey, cheese cubes, cherry tomatoes, jarred black and green olives, fruits, veggies and nuts made for a simple, colorful array of finger foods. These became a staple in our house. I would place a large platter on the kitchen island and we would graze all day. Then I’d pop whatever was left of it in the fridge and create a new one the next day. A few interesting things began to happen…
The kids began eating things that they normally wouldn’t even try, they began to get excited about adding new foods to the platters and they began to get more involved in the planning and plating of our platters, even requesting new fruits and veggies. And the best part? No more constant “Mom, I’m hungry”, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat”, “Mom, can I have fill in the blank“.
***My big kids have always been good eaters and enjoyed healthier foods, but even they didn’t always warm up to new foods right away. It’s Ok if your kids only gobble up the not-so-healthy options at first. Just keep putting it out there and letting them experience new colors, shapes and textures on their own terms. This should be a no-stress snack for them and you 🙂
To this day, I still create these platters of healthy finger foods and dips for my now 16 and 18 year old’s. Even my autistic 8 year old who has serious food sensory issues will at least touch, smell and occasionally taste new foods.
Over the years, as my knowledge of nutrition has grown, our platters have become far more healthful and balanced than the traditional antipasto meats, cheeses and bread spread. However, I do still allow the big kids to choose a few artisan cheeses, meats and even a bit of dark chocolate from the international farmer’s market to class things up a bit. They get really excited about “pairing” exotic fruits and cheeses and creating new dips for veggies.
THESE DAYS I STICK WITH VEGGIES, FRUITS, AND PLANT BASED PROTEINS, WITH THE OCCASIONAL ARTISAN CHEESES, MEATS AND SWEETS
A few tips for making antipasto platters for your kids:
- Keep at least 1/2 of the platter veggies, 1/4 lean protein sources and 1/4 fruits, dips, cheeses, etc.
- Make sure everything can be eaten with little fingers (no silverware required)
- Add a few fruits and veggies they may not like, yet – you might be surprised what kids will try when there’s no pressure
- Mix it up. Chose lots of colors, shapes and textures and vary them regularly
- Add dips. Add hummus, salsa, guacamole or even an organic ketchup and encourage using veggies scoops instead of chips.
- Make it fun! Cut fruits and veggies into fun shapes or stack them in fun ways. Encourage them to play with their food.
Try These Veggies to fill at least 1/2 of the platter:
- Raw snap beans (mix in yellow, purple and green varieties)
- Raw Asparagus
- Baby Carrots
- Cherry Tomatoes (mix in heirloom varieties with different colors and shapes)
- Cucumber, Squash and Zucchini slices
- Sweet peppers (cut in half, lengthwise, they make a perfect spoon for dips)
Fill 1/4 of the platter with lean protein options:
- Unsalted Almonds, Walnuts or Pecans
- Almond Butter, or Natural, Low Sodium Peanut Butter
- Hummus or toasted chickpeas
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Nitrate & Hormone Free Sliced Turkey
Fill 1/4 of the platter with “others” (sweets, cheeses, fats, etc.)
- Whole fat cheeses
- Dips (guacamole, salsa, greek yogurt, ketchup, mustard, etc)
- Fruits (berries, citrus slices, apple slices, pineapple chunks, etc.)
- Dried Fruits or Fruit Chips
- Small dark chocolate pieces
Get creative and get the kids involved! And remember, these platters aren’t just for kids, they can be a beautiful appetizer for an adult gathering, or replace bags of chips and candy in the workplace break room 😉