Make mealtimes fun with Crazy Plates

Guest post by Lalah Manly

I will not eat them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them ANYWHERE! When it comes to dinner, I’m really a fan of mom or dad making one meal for everyone to sit down to. Like many parents, I fell into doing exactly the opposite pretty early on. I spent some time and effort shifting that dynamic and got it in the range of “there is at least one thing that is the same on all the plates.” Feh.

Somewhere along the way, Crazy Plates got invented. What we’re doing now is probably going to bite me in the ass someday, but it is working extremely well at the moment, and I’m not (yet) complaining.

I think it started with me occasionally doing what I called “Mandala Meals” for me and hubby, which were essentially tapas-type foods arranged in beautiful patterns on a plate. I loved mixing the colors and textures into something fun to prepare (and I am soooo not a cook!). Like a mandala, I knew I was creating something that would be destroyed soon enough. Get present with this moment, right? Right.

One night when we’d been in a rut around (not) keeping our four-and-a-half year old, Kylin, at the table and fighting over what he would and wouldn’t eat, I tried to ramp up his excitement for the meal by creating what I randomly called a Crazy Plate. It’s just painting with foods, really.

Sometimes it’s a visual pattern — concentric circles of edamame, blueberries, cornbread and cheese. Sometimes it’s a number pattern — five strawberries, four piles of lima beans, three hunks of feta, two carrots dipped in hummus, one piece of toast. Sometimes it’s everything arranged in triangles.

Lately, it’s been scenes. In one, we’ve got a tree made of turkey bacon, pepperoni and lima beans, clouds of banana slices, a fence of cheerios, a cheddar cheese moon. He’s come to expect these plates, and therein lies what I except will be a problem later on. For now? He eats ten times better than he used to.

There are a whole host of pros: I am able to include decent variety of textures and food groups, it’s mostly whole, uncooked foods, a variety of colors is necessary to a good scene/design, and he’s genuinely curious to see what the plate looks like each evening. He’s not demanding this set-up at school or friends’ homes (as far as I know). He knows he’s got to eat every bite to get his choice of dessert. One day, I’m hoping we can set some ingredients in front of him and let him create his own.

It’s also tiny but fun creative outlet for me. As a music therapist, I was required (or… ok, fine, required myself) to come up with unique and creative lesson plans each week for 20 different classrooms for 15 years. That got to be a pain times three. I actually look forward to coming up with each plate, and I’m not afraid of running out of ideas. I trust there is always another way to combine avocado with swiss cheese on a plate that is, if not thrilling, at least edible

Comments on Make mealtimes fun with Crazy Plates

  1. One of my favorite foods to make for my niece when I babysit is “eggs in a basket”, but I make it with a smiley face instead or a normal round hole. It’s a small touch that makes her smile, and she always gobbles up every bit of it!

  2. Have you tried color food days? One day you eat all red food(strawberries, red peppers, red meat etc) the next day green food(you can put a bit of green food coloring and have green eggs like Dr Seuss to go with all those green veggies), you can even get really wild and try blue food (like blue potatoes, blueberries etc). This may not be a good everyday plan but it can be a lot of fun and gets your kids trying food they otherwise might never want to touch.

  3. my dad used to make me “snack plates” which was mostly cheese and crackers, and what ever else he could find in the fridge. hed arrange slices and crackers in patterns around the plate. now at 27 i do the same thing for my 3 year old, and on occasion ask my dad to make one for both ( me ) of us. i think i may have to try making some pictures with dinner for my 3 year old, hed love it.

    • Oh man, I just love hearing how these things slide down the generations. Nice to hear the good things passed down instead of just the difficult things, you know? Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great article! I do somthing similar, but call them ‘selection plates’ I dont know where the name came from. I’m going to try some creative patterns from now on!

  5. We do something similar in our house but we call it a “smorgasbord”. I have two boys and we get out our divided trays and just fill each section with something different. Yogurt, sliced meats, fruits, cereals, sandwiches, raw veggies etc. It is always a crowd pleaser and seems to be the only way I can get them to eat a variety of foods.

    • I like how much independence and autonomy that provides for the kiddos… they need that in little ways before they can handle it in the big ways. Where do you get your divided trays?

  6. My 3 year old isn’t super picky at mealtimes…yet. But I picked up a rice mold on a whim the other day and she loved it. She asks for “star rice” or “heart rice” and gobbles it up. I’m going to experiment with other grains like quinoa & barley too. They’re like $3 on Amazon and an easy way to make meals fun. I even used the mold to cut out cheese in the same shape as the rice.

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