Playing with Your Food by A ParentNaomi
Like many people, I was brought up not to play with my food. To those of the wartime generation, there was an understandable fear of wasting so much as a scrap and a sense that playing with what was on your plate somehow disrespectful. But what if playing with food could be a way for children to explore new tastes? I’m not talking about throwing custard pies at each other (although don’t let me stop you) but allowing children to eat meals in a more playful way (which can also feel like a relief to parents).
For families with children, lunch at home is now a daily event involving preparing, sharing and clearing up a proper meal. Hands down, the single most common grumble I’ve heard from parents about lockdown is the time and energy involved in making daily lunches for the family. Oh how those of us who have become 24/7 caterers miss the snatched lunchtime sandwich, bowl of soup, or last night’s leftovers, (followed by maximum one journey to dishwasher, tap or bin).
But there are some upsides to the relentless planning, preparing and clearing up. We find ourselves having longer conversations at mealtimes. When the weather is good we try to eat outside, especially now that the restrictions on outdoor exercise are gradually lifting. And quick, picnic style lunches lend themselves brilliantly to offering up fruit and veg in a relaxed, ‘try it if you fancy’ way.
One of the few silver linings of lockdown has been that we have more time to eat together as a family. And what this means is that we have more time to eat together in a light hearted way. We have started playing with our food. Sometimes, I catch myself feeling guilty about this. But hey, no one is looking. And when it comes to family meals during this strange time, we all have to do whatever gets us through.
Below are some games/dares/ideas that have worked for us. The meal has been fun (sometimes teetering on hysterical), and the TastEd mantra of, ‘No one has to try and No one has to like.’ has been adapted to, ‘if you try a tiny piece and you don’t like it you are allowed to spit it out’.
– Face plate challenge…chop up any fruit and veg you have going and make faces on your plates. We have found that even teenagers will do it.
-Living room picnic. Put down a blanket or a towel, sit on the floor and pretend that dinner is a picnic.
– Eyes shut guessing. One week we found 3 colours of carrot in the fridge. We all took turns to be blindfolded & fed carrot sticks of different colours in any order. No one guessed them all right and everyone loved watching the others get it wrong. You can do this with peppers, or different fruits. Parents go first!
-Chopstick challenge. How many individual peas can you eat if you are only allowed to use chopsticks?
-Mango hedgehogs. Can you cut half a mango to look like a hedgehog (crisscross the inside with a knife and push from the skin side so that the chunks face outwards) and eat it with your hands? https://www.realmomnutrition.com/mango-hedgehog/
– ‘The cool crunch lunch’. Cucumber sandwiches. Kids can peel and slice the cucumbers. Old school and surprisingly delicious (use white bread and proper butter!)
– Rice paper summer rolls. Who can put the most interesting selection of ingredients into their wrap? There’s a recipe here but we have found that so long as you have a few different vegetables, anything goes https://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/vegetarian-summer-rolls-with-peanut-dipping-sauce/.
The kids love these. There is something fascinating about the translucent, sticky wrap. (N.B. parents may need to do the dipping in hot water to soften them).
– Grow cress. You just need wet paper towel sprinkled with some cress seeds, and the magic takes a few days. Creative types grow them in eggshells to make little faces with hair. All my kids tried the cress and pronounced it ‘gross’, but on the bright side they tried it (probably due to having grown it).
– Flavouring your water. Line up the glasses. Put a slice of cucumber in one, lemon in another, a celery stick or mint leaf in the next, and so on. Stir. Try them. Discuss. My oldest child who won’t eat strawberries or any soft fruit will at least taste it in water…it’s a start!