Parenting 101: The Snack Tray

Parenting 101 is a series of posts that I have written to help out new parents by teaching them little tricks and tips to make this whole journey a bit easier.  They are not Earth shattering revelations, and they do not follow any certain parenting philosophy.  They are simply tips to make life with children a bit easier for everyone.
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I am not going to claim, by any stretch of the imagination, to have invented the snack tray.  However, I am going to tell all of the uninitiated parents out there about them, and how they work.

This tray fed all three of my kids for an afternoon.

Toddlers, and even preschoolers, can be interesting people to feed sometimes.  They never seem to want much of anything to eat.  They often eat two bites and are done.  Getting them to sit down long enough to eat something can be a struggle.  And giving them a largish something to eat can turn into a mess very quickly.  So, how does a mom make sure that her kids are getting a good variety of foods without struggling?  The snack tray!

The snack tray is any type of a dish (you probably want a break resistant type) that is compartmentalized into small sections.  Many people use ice cube trays, muffin tins, or other plastic serving or storage dishes with compartments.  The tray is filled with a small amount each of a variety of snacks.  Then, the tray is placed out on a table or other low shelf area where the child can easily access it.  The tray is generally left accessible during the majority of the day, allowing the child to grab a snack without really interrupting their play.  It is a really great way to get some extra food into a child who may not yet have the cognitive ability to sit still long enough to have longer snacks or meals.  It is also a good way to ensure a variety of food in the child’s diet.

Some snack tray ideas include:

*Thawed frozen veggies – my kids love green peas or green beans.
*Fresh fruits, cut into bite sized pieces – stick to hardy types, though, or monitor throughout the day to be sure they haven’t gone mushy in the tray.
*Cooked or canned beans – chick peas, kidney beans, pinto beans
*Raisins or dried cranberries
*Other dried fruit, if it is age appropriate for your child.
*Nuts, if age appropriate
*Dry cereal bites
*Baby “puff” type snacks
*Muffins or biscuits, cut into bites
*Bagels cut into bites
*Sandwiches or wraps, cut into bites
*Tater tots
*Cheese cubes, if you can eat that kind of thing
*Hard boiled egg, cut into bites – again, if you can eat that kind of thing
*Baby carrots, if age appropriate
*Bell pepper strips, if age appropriate
*Celery sticks, if age appropriate
*Diced eggplant, tomato, avocado (be handy with a wipe if you venture there), sweet potato, zucchini or yellow squash, cucumber, or turnip.
*Pomegranate seeds (technically called arils)
*Sliced mushrooms
*Chopped broccoli or cauliflower florets, if age appropriate
*Melon cubes
*Crackers, graham crackers, animal crackers

Really, the possibilities are endless!  If it will fit in the cup and your child can grab it and eat it with little fuss, go for it!  When using snack trays, I often keep a wipe laying out next to the tray for the child to wipe his or her hands on, or for me to snag and help wipe them.  Sippy cup next to the tray as well and the power struggle over food may just be over for you!

*One side note, do NOT be discouraged if it takes a few tries for your little one to figure out how to use the snack tray without attempting to play in the snack tray.  It is not the least bit unusual for the snacks to disappear into the play dishes, or to become a smear somewhere.  Just go slow at first, make the foods you offer easy to clean up, and model, model, model how we use the snack tray.  As the child understands the system more and more, you will be more and more free with what you can load it up with and how closely you have to monitor it.

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