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When it comes to gimmicks for getting kids interested in their food, I say, “Yes, please.” I have no shame when it comes to fun presentation, cute shapes or miniature anything, as long as it’s no more difficult than making a plain old version. With four kids at home — the oldest just turned 5 — these are my favorite tricks of the meal-making trade.
1. Sandwich Sushi: We call these “roly-polies” in our house, and the method couldn’t be simpler. Take a piece of bread and use a rolling pin to flatten it out (making the surface bigger too), then fill with your usual toppings like PB&J, turkey or whatever your kids like. Roll up and slice into 3 to 4 pieces.
2. Bunny and Bear Hard-Boiled Egg Molds: Our kids love eggs, but they actually cheer when I spend an extra 20 seconds creating bunnies or bears with these easy-to-use egg molds. Just press a peeled egg into the mold, close and wait a few seconds, then pop ‘em out.
3. Miniature Juice Glasses: Sure they hold milk, but I also serve the kids all sorts of things in these tiny 4-ounce glasses. Chili becomes a chili and cheddar parfait, yogurt gets layered with honey and berries, and let’s not forget smoothies. They’re the perfect size for small fries, and anytime the kids can see their food — especially if it’s even a little pretty — it’s instantly more appealing.
4. Heart and Star Veggie Cutters: They look like small metal cookie cutters, but they’re a little sharper and stronger. Here’s the important part: I’ve called my veggie cutters the best $4 I’ve ever spent. Great for transforming peppers, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and even cheese into sweet shapes our kids love, these little tools are a surprise hit I use all the time.
5. Whole-Wheat Dinner Rolls and Tiny Bagels: I love buying whole-wheat dinner rolls and miniature bagels to use for kids’ sandwiches. They’re the perfect size for tiny appetites and a welcome break from plain old bread. Some of our favorite flavors beyond turkey and cheese: cream cheese with strawberry fruit spread or egg salad with chopped dill pickles.
6. Skewers and Toothpicks: That’s right, anything becomes more festive when you put it on a stick. I thread cucumbers, bocconcini and cherry tomatoes onto toothpicks. Try fruit instead and, even better, put the whole thing in the freezer to serve as “dessert” on a hot day. Or use a wooden skewer to serve a chopped-up sub sandwich: Slide rolled-up turkey, ham, salami, cheese, pickles and big cubes of bread onto skewers instead of using a regular roll.
7. Princess and Frog Prince Sandwich Punches: Make a regular sandwich, then press a fun-shaped sandwich punch over the top — ours are princess and frog prince shapes, but the options are pretty endless — and dazzle the kids with your next ham sandwich. Extra time needed: 5 seconds. Here are more sandwich punch options.
8. Miniature-Muffin Pan: This is the hardest-working tool in my kitchen. From dozens and dozens (and dozens) of mini muffins to very small pot pies, baked pasta cups and even shepherd’s pies, I’ll throw anything into my two-dozen mini-muffin pan. Making things miniature eases the pressure off kids to eat a lot of any new dish, plus the shape is easy to freeze for later. Rounding out lunchboxes is a breeze when you’ve got a supply of frozen little muffins on hand.
Charity Curley Mathews is a former executive at HGTV.com and MarthaStewart.com turned family food blogger, an editorial strategy consultant and a mother of four. She’s a contributor to The Huffington Post and the founder of Foodlets.com: Mini Foodies in the Making…Maybe.