We Will Do Anything to Get Our Kids to Eat

Even become Pinterest Parents, if it comes to that.

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Sandwich with rocket ship made of egg and astronaut made of sweet potato
Photo: Elena Shashkina (Shutterstock)

I had a deep resentment for “Pinterest Moms” when I became a parent. I knew I could never keep up with those Joneses, so I rejected them outright. My house was never going to look neat and tidy all the time. My crafts weren’t going to be adorable. Most of all, I was never, never going to cut my kids’ food into shapes and make cutesy little bento boxes for their lunches.

The problem with cute lunches for kids

There are memes all over the internet that consist of two side-by-side images: “what my child eats,” with a picture of an adorable lunch full of cheese cut into stars and heart-shaped sandwiches, and “what I eat,” with a photo of the outlines of these lunch creations—the scraps, crusts, and refuse from the adorable bento box displays.

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I love my kids and I want them to feel special, but this is wasteful and a waste of time. I don’t want to eat crusts of bread like a prisoner in a medieval fairy tale and I don’t want to throw them out, either. I’m not doing it.

What changed

We all say things before we’re parents. “I’m never going to put my kid in time out.” “I’m never going to co-sleep.” “My kids will never watch Cocomelon.” Once my kids started going to daycare and eating solids, I had to change my tune, at least about lunch. They wouldn’t eat sandwiches.

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What kids won’t eat sandwiches, you ask? Mine.

Packing lunches was a huge pain in the butt. I never knew what food I could give them that would have even a little bit of protein and wouldn’t make a colossal mess in the lunch box and wasn’t mostly sugar, like Go-Gurt. I’m not above serving Go-Gurt, but would like to include a variety of other items if possible.

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I took to Infernal Pinterest, searched “kid lunches that aren’t sandwiches,” and found a plethora of solutions. But if my kids don’t eat sandwiches, you can bet they’re not touching a mezze platter or “deconstructed tacos” either.

The great sandwich compromise

I followed influencers like Kids Eat in Color for picky eating tips. I appreciated the realism of the account’s creator, Jennifer Anderson, and the experts that contribute to the account. Her food looked pretty, but that wasn’t the focus. Food is food and kids need to eat.

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My kids liked nut butters (sun butter at school, to accommodate allergies). They could deal with jelly or jam. White bread was okay, maybe. I tried to revisit the basic PB (or SB) and J. This time, thoughI cut the sandwiches into fun shapes.

I have many cookie cutters because we do enjoy baking sugar cookies around the holidays, and we’ve never felt limited to traditional Christmas shapes. I had llamas, flowers, airplanes, cats, and stars. I put a llama-shaped sandwich on the plate along with some strawberries and backed away slowly.

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One of my kids ate it. Happily. He asked for a llama in his lunch the next day. I obliged. The other kid was a lost cause, but we will revisit in six or seven years.

I got good at sandwich geometry, reducing bread waste by mixing and matching shapes to best fill in the negative space. I composted the crust or fed it to the dog. I had to admit, the little shapes did look pretty cute in his bento box next to his crackers and sliced fruit.

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The lunch box breakthrough

One morning, I was kind of tired. I was about to ask my son what shape of sandwich he wanted that day, or give him a few choices among the ones that best fit the bread we’d bought that week. Instead, I suggested, “Hey, bud, for your sandwich shape today, how about rectangles?”

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He looked up from his waffles skeptically. There’s no way he’s gonna go for it, I thought.

“Sure,” he said, and returned to his carbo-load.

I can’t tell you the last time I cut a sandwich with a cookie cutter, but he continues to eat a sandwich every day. Sometimes two.

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