Lately, with a toddler in our home, we try to make a lot of meals that can easily have the different components kept separate so our little guy can experiment with each food, as opposed to rejecting the combination of foods outright at mealtime. And it's been working wonderfully overall for the last 6 months or so! And as the temperatures heat up, and summer is almost upon us, I rely less and less on turning my oven on. But in truth, this is a meal we love in any season! Today I'm sharing my family's no-cook appetizer or meal option (depending on how big you make it) of a Family-Style Ploughman's Lunch.
Cheese Board, or Charcuterie Board or Ploughman's Lunch?
Some may call it s Cheese Sampler Platter, or perhaps even a Cheese and Charcuterie Board, but my understanding is that a cheese board tends to lend itself to the focus on cheese, and a charcuterie board emphasizes meats and bread products, whereas a Ploughman's Lunch highlights all of the aforementioned in addition to produce and, in some cases, preserves like pickles or olives. And let's be honest here - when a toddler is in the mix, the more food choices you provide, and the more options they have be independent and experiment with new foods, the better.
What Makes it Family Friendly?
There are a few things that I focus on when making a Ploughman's Lunch for my family, versus for an adult-only event:
1. Choose meats that are nitrate free.
We have an amazing local butcher that we use who sources his meat within the community, and also makes his own small batches of deli meats - all nitrate free. If you want to learn more about why it's suggested that you avoid meat with nitrates in them, visit the link at Eat Right Ontario - "The Truth About Nitrates" to read up about why they're not recommended. That being said, I know that not everyone will have access to my amazing butcher, so I did all of my shopping at a regular deli and I was still able to locate a meat product that was nitrate free.
2. Choose cheeses that have subtle flavours, full fat content and that are pasteurized.
I avoid lots of of the flavoured cheeses and keep it pretty mild for my little guy, except for chili and cumin. He loves those! For our Ploughman's Lunch, I selected a mild goat's milk cheese and a cumin gouda. Both are harder cheese varieties which can make clean up easier.
I also avoid light cheese (kids need the calories for their growing bodies), and I limit how much cheese my kiddo takes in as it can create constipation. Thankfully, he's often very good at moderating himself. If this is a concern for you, buy one section of cheese and cut it in half to make it looks like visually there are two blocks of cheese on the lunch platter.
Finally, choose a cheese variety that is pasteurized. Children have weakened immune systems (as anyone who takes their kids to programs or day care is already familiar with!), and the pasteurization process eliminates bacteria in the food that could make them ill. If you want to learn more about pasteurization, check out this fact sheet.
3. Have your dips or preserves focus on something made with veggies or fruit.
For our platter we added in a homemade hummus and a baba ganoush. I also make my own chutneys and salsas and use those on occasion as well. Ultimately, you're looking for something both tasty and healthy, and that provides some extra produce as part of the platter while still having it feel fun, and most importantly... delicious! And have you ever tried zucchini hummus? I tried out this amazing recipe for Zucchini (bean free) Hummus last summer from the Detoxinista and loved it! So fast, so easy, and truly tasted like hummus! Plus, if you have a zucchini plant, you always need extra recipes because those things produce like crazy!
4. Use breads or crackers that are whole wheat, whole grain, or that include dried fruits and seeds in them.
Use the cracker or bread component as yet another easy way to include another layer of nutrition. One of our favourites are simply the low sodium Triscuits which are often a kid-approved favourite cracker as well. You can also find lots of amazing whole wheat fresh breads that pair well with veggie spreads, meat and cheese. And if you want to splurge, there are some amazing crackers with whole grains, seeds and dried fruits in them as well to add in that little something special.
5. Fill in any blank spots on the lunch platter with nuts, seeds or produce.
In this case, I grabbed whatever produce I had on hand that needed using up in my fridge and pantry! Some ideas include fresh fruit or veggie sticks (or slices - whatever your child prefers), unsalted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, nuts of your choice (if you family can include these), dried fruits like dates, apricots, or whatever else you might have on hand. The key is to find different colours and textures to really make the platter visually appealing. After all, we eat with our eyes!
Family Friendly Ploughman's Lunch
- 1 or two varieties of unpasteurized, mild cheese
- Nitrate free meat (100-200g)
- Lots of fruits and veggies (carrots, berries, grapes)
- Dried fruits (apricots)
- Vegetable based dips (hummus, baba ganoush)
- Nuts and/or seeds
- 2 varieties of crackers that are whole wheat / have dried fruit and seeds
- Place the cheese & meat on the platter first.
- Next, place the olives and any dips onto the platter.
- Crackers will be the next addition, since they will need some space and aren't as easy to stack as some other items.
- Finally, add in the fruits and veggies.
- Use any nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to fill in any gaps on the platter and make it visually appealing.