There are certain times of the year when most of us tend to overindulge on sweets. Halloween through Christmas is like a sugary fog of candy, hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. When the New Year begins, my family and I are in need of a sweets detox! I came up with the “Yes Tray” a few years ago to bring us back to how we need to be eating.

You can use a tray, or just as easily a muffin tin. I fill it with healthy snacks and keep it at my kids’ level in the refrigerator. They don’t have to ask before snacking, the answer is always “yes.” The kids feel like they have freedom of choice, and I feel like I’m giving my kids healthy options without a fight. Sometimes I’ll add a few hard-boiled eggs and call it lunch!

The way I arrange the tray is to include one handful of something they love that will bring them to the tray, like bunny grahams or pretzels. I add to that nuts and dried fruit. The rest of the tray is for raw fruits and veggies. A few things my kids love are oranges, apples and grapes, so to that I’ll also add in things they’ll eat but don’t ever ask for, like carrots, broccoli or celery. I like to introduce new things here as well, because they know the tray won’t be refilled until it’s empty. If your kids prefer a dip, try using a pouch of dressing seasoning and adding it to plain Greek yogurt for the veggies, and have them dip the fruit in vanilla Greek yogurt!

Kids eat with their eyes first, just like we do, so I take the time to make it beautiful. No need to make a Hello Kitty sculpture out of the apples or mini Darth Vader radishes, but if I slice them the same size and organize them in rows, it has a big effect on how they see the tray. If they know you put effort into their tray, they’ll likely reward you with trying new things.

I know I’m much more likely to eat something that looks nice, and I think kids are no different. A bowl of whole fruits and veggies in the middle of the kitchen is likely to be passed by. But sliced and presented on a tray creates an interest that keeps them coming back for more! When introducing new things, try cutting them with a mini cookie cutter (like these red pepper slices). The butterfly shaped pepper was the first thing my daughter grabbed! Another trick is to pair new fruits or veggies with ones they love. These grape kabobs are paired with mango, so my grape-loving little guy is likely to try the mango because it’s on the same stick. When adding new things, only put a small portion on the tray so they’re not overwhelmed by the thought of eating five whole radishes by themselves! 

My philosophy is color, color, color! Try rainbow carrots mixed with celery, different colored grape tomatoes (cute picks are always a hit), and Easter egg radishes with cucumber. Adding plantain chips and almonds to the bunny grahams prevents them from snacking only on bunny grahams, as my kids would do if I let them. Seasonal fruit like Cara Cara oranges and Honeycrisp apples (shown here) are especially sweet. 

To prevent the apple slices from browning, put the slices in a bowl with two cups of ice water with a teaspoon or two of apple- cider vinegar and let soak for about five minutes (lemon juice also works). Pat them dry with a paper towel before putting them on the tray.