“Don’t play with your food!” Our kids hear it from us and we heard it from our parents – who no doubt heard it from their parents. And I get it, I really do. It can get messy and distract kids from actually eating the meal we slaved away on.
But – hear me out on this one – there is a right way to let your kids play with their food. Encouraging a sense of play at the dinner table can make mealtime more enjoyable for all. Plus, it can actually lead to kids staying at the table longer and eating more than they might when they’re forced to follow stricter rules.
Cooking and eating is one of the few opportunities we have to use so many of our senses at the same time: touch, smell, sight and taste. It’s also a fun and valuable activity to do together as a family. Here are a few of the right ways to let your kids play with their food.
Play with shape
Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into different shapes your kids can help you identify- circles, squares, triangles. Buy a package of wonton wrappers and fill with ground meat and diced vegetables. Create a 3D dumpling experience by allowing the kids to help you shape them into anything they like.
Play with smell
Cover your kids’ eyes when you bring their meal to the table, have them take a good whiff, and ask them to describe what they smell. Pleasing scents can enhance the tasting process and may help your little ones get more adventurous with their palate. Experiment with different spices, proteins, and fruits and vegetables.
Play with taste
Add something new or exciting to a dish on your regular rotation and see if the kids can identify it – a squeeze of lemon, a dash of cinnamon, a sprig of mint. You might be surprised at what flavours they enjoy trying when it becomes a game.
The more involved you can get your kids in the kitchen the better. Have them help you prep meals and set the table. They’re much more likely to enjoy a meal when they’ve been a part of the cooking process, and a few dinner table games should make for a livelier mealtime for the whole family. And fingers crossed everyone cleans their plates!