Bento Box Meals

Steve requested salmon this week and followed through both on marinating it overnight and preparing it to perfection; flaky and yet incredibly moist. He used an easy Maple Soy Glaze I came across in a magazine. We have been putting on pork chops, but it could work for salmon too. Equal parts soy and maple syrup, a tsp of garlic, and a shake of chili flakes. It was divine. Caroline loved it. Even after eating an entire helping of mac and cheese with veggies she kept asking for more fish.

I picked up a couple plates for Caroline in the $1 bin at Target with separate areas for each part of the meal. I haven’t really utilized them until now. I am so set in my meal prep ways using her little IKEA plates that I don’t often reach for the alternative options. When her lunch was presented on one of these plates yesterday she came running to the table and was simply delighted with the tomatoes, avocado, strawberries and toast with cheese all in their very own sections. I chose to use the plate as a pick me up for a little girl who spent the majority of the day licking snoots off her top lip (not that I didn’t try to stay on top of that! Yuck!) and looking rather miserable. Dear Zicam, please PLEASE save me from this fate. Emergen-C – I am looking at you!

I had read an article some time ago in the sadly defunct Wondertime (tears!!!!) about presenting foods to children in this way. I purchased these plates with that ditty on Japanese Bento Boxes in mind. Seeing her reaction to lunch yesterday, a truly rare lunchtime excitement that I hear she has at school but we NEVER see at home, I think I am going to adopt some of these Bento principles using these cutie plates. 3 parts carb, 1 part protein, 2 parts fruit and vegetable. Imagine my surprise when I googled Bento and discovered that her meal yesterday was just about this ratio. Those little separated sections really lend themselves to this sort of thinking. I saw some “easter” themed plates with rabbits at Target this week, I’ll wait for them to hit the $1 bin and pick up a few more.

As I sat there watching her “mmming” and smiling through her meal I had a really foolish “aha moment.” This kid loves variety. I know this. I just don’t practice it. There I said it. I will now go to admit that I can be pretty lazy on the creating an interesting meal front. I really enjoy cooking for my family. I labor over soups on my days off and present quick but healthy meals with quality ingredients on days that I am working. I offer her what we are having and if that is a no go, I might (and I stress MIGHT) offer her up some sad squiggle of hot dog. I don’t often offer an alternative because we try not to be too concerned if she refuses a meal. We are trying very hard to believe that if she is hungry she will eat. Caroline has a pretty good appetite most of the time. If we limit the afternoon snacking she will usually plow through whatever we present her with, but there are nights when she eats a bite or two and asks to be “scoose.” When we are able to sit down for lingering weekend breakfasts she loves having a taste of the eggs, a bite of toast, some cereal, chomping on some bacon - because it is interesting. All those plates on the table, people selecting a bit more of this or that. What better way to encourage her to explore food than to present it to her in a fun way. So Yes, I am actually just now thinking in this way now. I suppose I have been in denial of her toddlerhood mealtime needs until now. Making food and mealtime fun for her just hasn’t occurred to me. I do however draw the line at creating fish stick houses.


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