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Serving Meals & Snacks {Family Childcare Tips}

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So much in family child care is about being organized. There has to be a routine or system in order for the day to go smooth. It’s taken me much time to get a system in place and I have to say, they often change. I call that growth because you just keep learning. Learning a better way of doing things or what works for you or just changes based on needs of the kids and day.
One thing that’s quite consistent in my home is how I serve meals and snacks. I’m not going to post about menus, food program requirements or snack ideas.This is just about what I serve it on.

Plates
First of all, I just ♥ the Target dollar bins! Now of course there’s lots of cheap disposable type things there, but it’s such a great place to find helpful items for child care. Originally I found these divided plates in Target’s seasonal area. I didn’t care that they were $3.99 each (other whatever they were, that was years ago!)  so I bought 6 or 8 of them.  Now they are in the dollar bins! They are the same size and quality and there’s more selections in designs.  I just bought 6 more.  There’s a spot for a fruit, vegetable, main dish and a dip or small side. They’re cute, child sized, keep foods separate, help with proportions, stack in the cabinet besides washing and holding up well. A couple of mine have small small chips on the bottom edges so I’m replacing those but I’ve been using them for years.

Flatware
I also use the 2-piece flatware sets from the Target dollars bins. They rotate by seasons so there’s always different designs and colors. I see there’s a new style out now that slightly larger and differently shaped.  I like that these sets are child sized, real stainless forks and spoons. Every child gets a fork and spoon at every meal starting about 1 year or maybe a little younger. I recommend them to parents too. Often they don’t realize that their child can use a fork or spoon until they start child care. I don’t like kids using their hands when they’re well able to learn to use a utensil. I give constant reminders at meal times to “use your fork and spoon” and sometimes directions on which foods (sandwich, chicken pieces or orange wedges) that they can use their hands on.

The images on the handles do wear off eventually in the dishwasher though. Eventually (many months) the metal part will rust underneath the plastic handle and break off but for a $.50? That’s fine with me, I just buy a new set.  Notice I do not match them up when putting them out for meal time. I don’t have that much time!
The kids like to see whose forks and spoons match theirs.  I do try to give “a girl plate” to a girl and “a boy plate” to a boy but it doesn’t happen everyday and they don’t make a fuss about it. “You get what you get and you’re happy with it” kind of mentality.  I also do not do “girl cups” or “boy cups”. There’s no such thing as “girl colors” or “boy colors” here because I don’t have time for it and the arguing/whining that goes along with it. If you don’t like the color of plate/cup at that spot, don’t sit there.  No one talks about it actually.

Cups
I recommend using all the same color cups. No designs. That solves that problem right there.  I have a variety right now but I saw IKEA had some nice sized colorful tumbler cups for kids. Smaller cups work well so they are not overfilled (I tend to overfill and milk or juice gets wasted) and they’re not as tippy.  
Sippy Cups
For the smaller ones, I’ve eliminated all sippy cups. Too many little parts to wash and disinfect. Now I use simple cups with lids – more like “tippy cups”. (Check Tupperware for these types of cups. Tell the parents too and get them on board! Emphasis their child’s development. There are some disposable type cups like this with the snap on lid, but they hold water around the rim and never dry nice coming out of the dishwasher.) This is so they learn to sip rather than suck preparing them to learn to use a regular cup without a lid. By 18  months I have them drinking out of cups without lids. Do they spill? Of course. Put a bib on them, offer small amounts, sit with them and remind them to use “two hands” and help them slowly tip the cup up. Or set the cup back and give it to them a few times throughout the meal. They learn quick.  Still I clean up messes. Everyday but it’s not always the littlest ones  spilling either.  
On this topic, I do not allow kids to carry cups around the house. I couldn’t obviously, or the place would be a disaster. Kids can only drink or eat at the table. This creates good habits, prevents choking and keeps everyone cleaner and healthier.  Do kids need a sippy cup constantly? Of course not. Maybe it helps keep them quiet in the car or at the store but usually it’s unnecessary. Try to entertain them (or teach themselves to be entertained without using food) I love the routine that I’ve learned to provide for my kids for meals & snacks. Breakfast, am snack, lunch, pm snack, dinner and maybe a snack/dessert afterwards. Milk at mealtimes, juice or water at snack. Always water in between snacks. So many reasons for that but now we’re getting into menus.
Storage
Here’s my “kid plates/cups” cabinet. The flatware is stored in small bins along side our family flatware. It’s kind of intimate looking into someone’s cabinets and drawers isn’t it?  I try to to keep them clean & neat! Separating the forks and spoons makes is easy to grab out 5 or 8 of each and place them on a plate.  

See the little rainbow colored bowls on the right? They work great for little snacks that don’t go so well on paper plates like watery mandarin oranges or yogurt. The larger blue bowls work well for soup. I place those right on the divided plates.

Snacks
I always use disposable at snack time, twice daily, (if I don’t run out!) I keep these items handy right on my counter.  Small plastic cups for the drinks and napkins or small paper plates for the snack. The kids can throw their own away after they are done and it cuts down on washing for me. I run my dishwasher at least once or twice a day as it is so this saves my time & resources. Meals are always served on regular plates though.  I used to buy Dora & Diego Dixie wax paper cups. They were fun and the perfect size, about 7ozs. and priced great – 80 for $2.99 or so.  Can’t find them *anywhere* in town now so I buy plain plastic.

Hope this helps! I love the structure of this system.

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