We have a Sunday tradition called “Kitchens” where we take turns picking from a list of kid-friendly dinner options. Each of these options is basically a lot of individual ingredients so that each family member can customize their own dinner – whether it’s a pizza, stir fry or a burger bar. One of the most popular items is basically a sheet pan of vegetables that we call “Snack Tray Kitchen”
Is it a tray full of snacks?
Not really. It’s a sheet pan full of vegetables, nuts, meats, cheeses and dips. Do kids love anything that’s called a “snack” where they get to pick whatever they want. Oh yes. Combine that with a lot of vibrant colors, kids size cuts and tasty dips and you have a winner dinner.
Now, this isn’t going to be a preachy post where I tell you that we have the golden solution to getting kids to eat vegetables – and that you’re doing it wrong. There are plenty of parenting/food blogs that are doing that really well. I simply would like to share one thing that has worked for a 4 and 6 year old.
As with many elements of the parent-child relationship, choice is an illusion. Kids should always get to make a choice, but it’s usually from a controlled list of options. And this dinner includes Las Vegas levels of choice illusion that gets them heavily involved in the entire meal. Basically, they get a lot of ownership of selecting what to serve, plating the dish and choosing what they want to eat.
Kid Friendly Items to Select
The first fun part is going to the grocery to pick out all of the various options. Our kids love the scavenger hunt element of finding all of the items in the produce section and learning how to pick out the best item. For filling out the tray, I use the following rough split:
- 60% Fruits and Vegetables
- 15% Nuts
- 15% Meats (or a mix or tofu, tempeh and seitan)
- 10% Cheese
- Peppers (Red, Green, Yellow & Orange)
- Rolled up ham and turkey slices
- Greek Yogurt Ranch
- Spinach & Caramelized Leek Dip
- Red Pepper Romesco
- Black Olive Tapenade
Once we get home we separate everything into what we need to wash and cut for the tray and what will go into the various dips. It usually takes about an hour to get everything pulled together.Finally we’ll assemble all of the vegetables on the sheet pan, pour dips into bowls and take it over to the table. And here’s another magical part of the dinner….there are no plates. It’s breaking all of the rules. Kids get to reach, dip (while learning the importance of no double dipping) and choose whatever they want. All in all, it’s a big win and we’re always fascinated by the amount of vegetables that gets consumed in one sitting.
And for a really fun variation, each year for the Super Bowl, we do something similar and make Sheet Pan Nachos….