One of the advantages of being an at-home-father is frequenting local parent-child hangouts. There, a host of moms descend like a murder of crows, along with their refined sense of parenting.

I mean that in a good way. Sort of.

On the plus side, I pick up a few “tricks of the trade” — whoops, that almost made parenting sound like prostitution.

On the down side, I have to sit through a lot of non-male conversation about post pregnancy body woes.

Not to mention continuous worries that so-and-so’s child is not developing as fast as Bobby-Rae over there who, wouldn’t you know it, can recite all Bob the Builder episodes in three languages.

Amongst these always-keen Moms, I’ve been schooled on how to pack tasty treats for my daughter. I say this not presuming other fathers are as dumb as I am — though admittedly, I’m hoping a few of you are. It always helps when I don’t feel like a complete dolt.

Case in point: on my first outing with Simone to a park — one where she did not require rice crackers — I tossed an apple and three corn-thins into a bag, along with some water. ‘Nuff said, I thought. And, I suppose it was alright. But have you ever seen a one year old try to gnaw through the skin of an apple with two piddly front teeth?

You get the idea.

Perhaps it’s more an indication of impatience on my part? And what are children but the most significant lesson in patience we ever encounter?

So, after that less-than-bright moment of culinary ineptitude, I started paying attention to nearby Moms and their snack-packing skills. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

  1. Ziplock containers or Tupperware. No sandwich bags or throw-away packaging. More of an eco-conscious thing, but it also makes for easy holding for the kid, who undoubtedly will want to fetch their own food at some point.
  2. If you cut up apple or pear, try squeezing a lemon over the slices. Keeps them from browning up after air exposure.
  3. Mix it up. Don’t just pack crackers or carrot sticks. Make it a bit of a grab-bag. I’ll do Craisins and Goldfish crackers and grapes (washed and dried) and carrot sticks and maybe even some marshmallows. Sounds hellish, I know, but hey…each handful is different.
  4. Dry cereal is lame. Just saying. Sugar covered carbs are useless. Protein and veg, that’s how we do it. Okay, some carbs too.
  5. Popcorn is not lame. Air popped is best, but if you’re in a pinch the microwave variety has been known to work too. Not that nasty-ass, shake-a-flavor stuff, though.
  6. Fresh fruit and veg trumps all other ideas. No question. Cut up strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe and let your kid peck at ’em.
  7. Tortilla-shell pinwheels. Take a tortilla, layer it with peanut butter and banana, or cheese, or whatever suits your fancy. Roll it up and cut it into 3/4 inch slices. This requires hands-on knowledge of rolling and cutlery, though. User beware.

Snacking habits are funny. I’ve often noticed what a kid turns their nose up to at the table, hits its mark en route to a park. As long as they’ve chosen it themselves. Or at least perceived to have done so. And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? Choice is a huge part of how we function.

Most of the time I give Simone some options, she picks a few of them, and I get it all ready.

Carefully constructed options, of course. The kind that denote predetermination as opposed to actual free will.

Peculiar creatures, kids are. Needy and energy-sucking and sometimes a little witless. But always with this innate understanding of independence. The glimmer of being connected but disparate.

Thankfully, the world can rely on all us rational adults (that’s sarcasm, folks) to keep things moving.

Did I miss anything? Probably! Fire up a discussion in comments.

Harry Tournemille once caught his daughter practicing cuss words to herself while playing with her dollies.