If you think your preschoolers aren't ready to prepare their own snacks, think again. Montessori-style education in particular emphasizes teaching "practical life skills" such as food preparation. A special occasion like an island or luau-themed party is the perfect time to get children to pitch in. Helping you with the snacks will give them a sense of accomplishment -- and get them used to lending a hand in the kitchen.
Tropical Fruit Salad
One of the easiest island-themed snacks for your child to prepare is a fruit salad. You can cut up the fruit beforehand, or give your little chef a kid-safe serrated knife or vegetable cutter to use under your supervision. Choose tropical fruits such as bananas, kiwi fruit, fresh or canned pineapple, mango, papaya, starfruit, canned mandarin oranges and melons. Put them all in a bowl together and let your child mix them together with a big wooden spoon. Be aware that bananas will turn brown if you let this salad sit too long, so add them at the last minute. Offer the option or adding shredded coconut if you like.
Instead of a jumble of mixed fruit, have your child layer different tropical fruits in an attractive parfait glass. If there are a lot of party guests, you might have each guest customize his own parfait. Set out diced tropical fruit in bowls and let each child put a layer of one fruit down, then another, and another. Three or four layers should be enough. Top with yogurt and let them dig in.
Ham and Fruit Kabobs
Kids love snacks on a stick -- and they love assembling these snacks even more. Provide short bamboo skewers, making sure to supervise closely so that your child doesn't poke himself, or if more than one child is preparing the snack, they don't engage in an impromptu "sword" fight with the skewers. Provide fresh or canned pineapple chunks and cubes or strips of precooked ham. If using strips, have your child roll up the strip into a spiral before skewering it. Alternate the ham with the pineapple. That's it! Provide a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce if you like -- or simply serve plain.
Tropical Trail Mix
Let your child assemble an island-themed trail mix for snacking. Put out small bowls of dried fruit, like pineapple and papaya, nuts such as macadamia and cashews, fish-shaped crackers or pretzels, banana chips, coconut flakes and crystallized ginger. Provide a big bowl for mixing -- and let your child combine all the ingredients into the big bowl. She can use her hands for mixing -- as long as she's washed them thoroughly. Other tasty additions to the mix might include rice crackers, edible seaweed and sesame sticks.
Specially Shaped Sandwiches
Cookie cutters are a mom's best friend when it comes to food preparation. With the right cookie cutter, you can turn any sandwich into a themed party treat. Or, in this case, you can let your preschooler do the work for you. Whip up a batch of peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese sandwiches, or go extra-tropical by adding chopped dried tropical fruit to cream cheese and using it as a spread. Then let your little one go at the sandwiches with cookie cutters shaped like palm trees, pineapples, fish and seashells. You can also use the cookie cutters on slices of deli meat and cheese.
Making punch requires no sharp objects and no finely-honed motor skills -- just a big bowl and the ability to pour. The latter is harder than it sounds, though, so you might want to place newspaper or a towel around the bowl while your child prepares this party treat. Mix together pineapple juice, orange juice and ginger ale or lemon-lime soda -- you can omit the soda if you're sugar-conscious or just use plain water. Give your child a big wooden spoon to stir. Let your little guy float slices of lemon, lime and orange in the mix. Or, the night before the party -- with your child's assistance, of course -- prepare a tray of ice cubes filled with colorful pureed fruits. Let your kiddo add the cubes to the punch just before the guests arrive.