Let kids play with their food!

I’m the kind of mom who let my kids make a big mess when they were young. I firmly believe that kids learn best when they are totally immersed in an activity, whether digging in the dirt, crafting pottery, or of course, cooking in the kitchen.

My son, now 25, still makes the biggest mess in the kitchen. When he visits, he doesn’t just make some simple sandwich of meat and cheese. Instead, he piles it high with anything and everything he can find in the kitchen and garden – pepper rings, avocado slices, garden greens, tomato slices, basil leaves, pickles, mango slices, etc. (he’s the one who also painted aliens on his wall, but that’s another story…). The good news is that I’m pretty sure he packs his full daily allotment of fruits and veggies on that one sandwich.

If you want your kids to be adventurous (and healthy) eaters, you need to provide them with experiences that allow them to have fun and yes, play with their food. Here’s a few ways to get kids more engaged and involved in the kitchen.

– Set up assembly style eating once or twice a week. Start with baked potatoes, whole grain pitas, brown rice, quinoa, or multigrain pasta and offer a variety of veggies, beans, cheese, sauces and other toppings that  kids can choose from. You may be surprised at the combinations they come up with.

– Wrap it up! Start with a whole wheat or multi-grain tortilla. Add  filling of your choice, roll up, and slice diagonally into 4-5 small servings. Try some of the following combinations or create your own.

  • Thinly sliced apples, sprinkle of cinnamon and light cream cheese
  • almond or peanut butter, banana slices and a dab of honey
  • Hummus, thinly sliced cucumber and tomato slices, Parmesan cheese
  • Caesar salad with chunks of tuna or chicken
  • Pasta sauce, grated mozzarella and black olives (heat for 20 seconds in the microwave)
  • Black beans, corn and salsa
  • Shrimp or Crab, light cream cheese and cocktail sauce

– Make snack time into an art project by creating edible fruit and veggie sculptures. The veggie caterpillar below is an example from my book, How to Teach Nutrition to Kids*.

Veggie Caterpillarscucumber caterpillar

You will need:

Thinly sliced mini-cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce leaves, whole cloves, thin onion pieces

Directions:

Using thinly sliced small cucumbers, arrange slices on a lettuce leaf, as shown in diagram. For the head, use a cherry tomato half. Insert whole cloves for the eyes and nose. Carefully poke small wholes on the top of the tomato to insert  thin onion pieces (shown in photo) for antennae.

*Source: How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, by Connie Liakos Evers (©2012, 24 Carrot Press)

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