Help a 'Picky Eater' (or Any Child!) with Monkey Platters

People are often amazed at what our daughters eat, both quantity and variety.  They are the ones you see walking round the shop munching on a carrot, or asking for a whole pepper as a treat.  And not because we have conditioned them or never allowed them sweets or biscuits, but because that is what they enjoy and what they choose (although the next day it might be a slice of cake too!)  We practised baby-led weaning with all three girls, proper food right from the start, and with complete autonomy and freedom of choice, and I think it shows now.

Choice and personal preferences are essential for all humans, after all what adult would be happy being told what to wear/do/eat?  Yet many parents dictate to their children from the moment they're born.  Of course, sometimes this is necessary, hold my hand near the busy road for example, but often it is for the adult's convenience, or through their choice or beliefs.  What if we could start giving children some of the autonomy they, like humans of any age and size, crave?  One simple way to do this is through food choices.

The term monkey platter was coined by Sandra Dodd when her children were little, following a trip to the zoo where the primates were served their food on sharing plates and happily selected their favourite pieces.  Essentially all it means is serving a large dish in the middle of the table with a selection of different finger foods on.  This can be done for lunch or dinner, even breakfast, or for snacks.  A selection of 4-5 foods is a good start, up to about 10-12, all in bite size pieces or easy to pick up and eat.

Below is a monkey platter we recently served Sophia (4) and Tatiana (2) for lunch.  They're both bread monsters and were very hungry after a long walk, so it is a bit carb-heavy compared to normal, but it gives you the idea.  They also had a pot of houmous on the table.

A large plate or tray is easy enough to pick up, this one was a pound or so from IKEA.  Lots of people offer cocktail sticks alongside for picking up the food, and adding to the fun, but we don't tend to bother, and just have a flannel ready for sticky fingers.  One more word to the wise, make it fresh, and maybe get the kids involved in putting it together, choosing foods and preparing them.  Ours love it!

As to what you put on your monkey platter, that's up to your family's preferences, but some ideas include:

  • crudite sticks of pepper, cucumber, celery, carrot, pickled cucumber
  • halved cherry tomatoes
  • pitted olives
  • slices of apple or pear
  • cubes or slices of cheese
  • slices of tortilla, try this asparagus tortilla recipe
  • cream cheese triangles
  • crackers
  • slices of baguette
  • strips of pitta bread or flat bread
  • mini wraps, quarters of tortilla wraps
  • tortilla chips
  • slices of pizza, try this flatbread pizza recipe
  • little sandwiches in fingers, triangles or shapes
  • breadsticks
  • mini bagels
  • squares of rye bread
  • a little bowl of houmous, Philadelphia or another dip
  • mini quiches or slices of quiche, try this savoury flan recipe
  • broccoli florets cooked al dente
  • cauliflower florets raw or cooked
  • frozen peas
  • home-made potato or sweet potato wedges
  • pieces of quesadilla
  • savoury muffins, try this vegan savoury muffin recipe or this sweetcorn muffin recipe
  • falafel - either classic or this fava bean and carrot version
  • cooked pasta like fusilli or conchiglie
  • grapes
  • chunks of melon, watermelon, pineapple, mango, papaya
  • slices of banana
  • fresh berries
  • redcurrants
  • slices of kiwi, plum or nectarine
  • orange or satsuma pieces
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • trail mix
  • rice cakes
  • raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruits
  • cereal, dry such as Cheerios
  • a little bowl of peanut butter, fromage frais or yogurt for dipping
  • slices of malt loaf
  • slices of banana bread, try this chocolate & banana loaf recipe
  • cubes of chocolate
  • mini muffins
  • cubes of flapjack
  • Scotch pancakes
  • pieces of granola or cereal bars
  • biscuits or shortbread

If you have a so-called 'picky eater', just make sure there are a couple of things on there that they definitely like, don't make any comments at all about what they should eat, and let them get on with it.  Mix sweet and savoury, 'good' and 'bad', all without judgment.  You'll no doubt be surprised at what they choose and the combinations they come up with!  The relaxed and fun approach to eating will probably see them trying something new in no time.  They eat because it looks appealing and different, because it's fun, and because it's all their choice.  Have fun!

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