Friday, February 18, 2011

Big Flavors for Little Palates: Muffin Tin Meals

Lunches frustrate me.  I get bored, the food gets monotonous, and the kids get whiny.  Let's also factor in that creating a fresh, healthy lunch in the middle of the day requires us to stop our fun activities and focus on food.  They're hungry and impatient.  I am too.

So last summer when I finally stumbled across Muffin Tin Mom, I embraced the idea to invigorate our lunchtime routines.  Armed with two pans of 6-cup muffin tins (undoubtedly inherited from my grandma), I made my first "Dippy Lunch" for Andrew.  He loved it!  These little ones love to dip things and mommas love when they eat lots of healthy it was win-win for everyone!

Left: Andrew's Dippy Lunch
Right: Anna's Munchy Lunch
How to Make a Dippy Lunch for Hungry Munchkins
  1. Start with a muffin tin.  I like to use the ones with 6 cups, but you can use anything!  Find fun shapes top fit the season, fill 12 cups with smaller portions, or fill some mini-tins with tiny portions. 
  2. Choose your dip.  For the lunch pictured above, we used Ranch dressing.  Other favorites include hummus and yogurt.
  3. Chop your veggies.  This is a great time to introduce a new veggie because the presentation is fun and they might be distracted.  I like to make a salad for my own lunch and then use those same ingredients in the muffin tin to make a "deconstructed salad" for Andrew.  To make it friendly for older babies & younger toddlers, simply steam those veggies to soften them a bit.
  4. Add something fun.  For this lunch, it was an assortment of yummy berries.  Other ideas include yogurt, apple slices, pitas, or wheat crackers.
Muffin tins can add some flair to any meal, including breakfast! My kids were happy to take a break from our typical rotation of oatmeal, granola, pancakes, oatmeal, granola....

Valentine's Day Breakfast
On this particular morning, they both enjoyed blueberries, bananas, and whole wheat cinnamon raisin toast. Andrew's toast was cut into sticks and Anna's as cut into bite-size quares.

One of our great go-to lunches in a muffin tin is:
  • Hummus on whole wheat pitas (Andrew gets triangles; Anna has small bite-size squares)
  • Carrots (Sticks for Andrew and steamed chunks for Anna)
  • Apples (Slices for Andrew and steamed chucks for Anna)
A few reasons why I love making meals (especially lunches) in muffin tins:

  • Variety - We all get stuck in food ruts.  The kids get bored eating the same foods in the same ways and we get bored when we continue to make the same things for them to eat.  Lunch is an especially difficult meal for me to execute with the kids, but the tins get my creative juices flowing again.
  • Serving sizes - Each cup is somewhere near a serving size for a toddler, give or take a little.  This forces you to think earnestly about the fruit & veggies that are going into those little tummies.
  • Quick preparation - You can easily line up a couple muffin tins to drop in little lunch bites.  This is a great place to use up the last bits of fruit, veggies, cheese, & yogurt that are hanging out in the refrigerator.  Does it seem too small for a full meal?  That little piece of leftover chicken might be the perfect size to fill a muffin cup!
  • Holiday themes - Add it to your holiday festivities by purchasing the silicon muffin tins in shapes: hearts, stars, shamrocks, trees, etc.  (My Valentine's Day heart pans came from the dollar bins at Target for only $2.50 each.)
The next time you are tired of your regular meal routines with the little ones, try using a muffin tin.  You might be surprised how your creative juices begin to flow!

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