I'll admit it: Lunch is the ugly red-headed stepchild at my house.
I have a long-standing love affair with breakfast. Egg scrambled with spinach, bacon, mushrooms and avocado. Pancakes sprinkled with cranberries and blueberries or maybe bananas and brown sugar. French toast topped with pecan praline crumble. Rosy grapefruit. Fragrant strawberries. And coffee. Lots of dark, rich French-press coffee.
And dinner? Well, dinner's the star of the show. My whole day is centered around dinner. I look at my meal list as I'm eating breakfast and decide what time I need to start cooking that night. I get meat out of the freezer. I double-check my vegetable drawer to make sure nothing has jumped the shark since my last trip to the market. It's the one meal where I know everyone in my family will get at least one serving of protein, fruit and vegetable on their plate, if not in their belly.
But lunch? Meh. It doesn't do it for me. I'm not a big sandwich eater, I get bored with leftovers. It's the "I guess I have to eat something now or I'll raid the candy cupboard at 4:00 PM" meal.
As you might imagine, my take-it-or-leave-it attitude has rubbed off on my kids. Natalie, age 7, would eat a frozen-then-microwaved burrito every day if given the chance. Connor, age 4, prefers PB&J. I usually grab whatever leftover is closest to growing fuzz.
But a few weeks back, just before school started, I decided to give lunch a temporary jolt and plan a Muffin Tin Lunch. The concept isn't unique with me; I've seen it explained on numerous blogs and in several parenting magazines. The basic idea is to serve a lunch of several small portions of food, cleverly (and cutely) portioned in a muffin tin.
I decided to take the concept one step further and use the muffin rows to explain the basic food groups I try to get my kids to eat. Thus, we had a row of fruit, a row of vegetables, a row of protein and a row of grains. I also upped the ante by including one item in each row that my kids normally eschew but might like if they would just give it a try. For example, Natalie insists she doesn't like strawberries. So I made sure a couple went in the fruit row. Connor says he doesn't like peppers, so I put a couple of slices of sweet yellow bell in the veggie row.
When I called them to lunch and produced two muffin tins filled with morsels, their faces lit up. They were completely delighted. They were a little put off by my insistence that they must take at least one bite of everything in their tray to earn a treat. But they quickly overcame that hurdle and giggled through their lunch of "samples." (Four words: Sam's Club on Saturdays.)
In the end, Natalie discovered she liked yellow bell peppers. Connor decided he didn't like grape tomatoes. And I found a way to get my kids to try some new foods without resorting to bribery.
Moral of the story: If you give your kids a muffin tin lunch, they're going to ask for more.
(Bonus post-script: Here's the power of Google. Late last night, I did some quick research to see if I could credit someone for inventing the Muffin Tin Lunch idea. While I didn't find the source, I did find a brilliant blog called Sycamore Stirrings that hosts Muffin Tin Mondays. She even comes up with themes for the lunches, such as "shapes" or "favorite children's book." Check out this page for some truly inspirational ideas. Or just Google "muffin tin lunch." There are tons of great sites out there.)
(Pictured in my muffin tin lunch: yellow peppers, baby carrots, grape tomatoes; chicken strips, brie cheese, bison sausage; oyster crackers, graham crackers, leftover bread from Outback with butter; cantaloupe, strawberries, grapes.)
Kelly also blogs at Love Well, when she isn't fantasizing about breakfast.