Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Having Fun in the Quarantine Kitchen

Connie Liakos, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
April 16, 2020 05:00PM

Let kids play with their food!

All this time together under one roof may leave parents looking for ways to entertain and educate their kids. Allowing kids to have fun experimenting in the kitchen can teach them important life skills while encouraging healthy and adventurous eating habits.

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 an adult, 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.

A fun way to entice children into trying new, nutritious foods is to set-up activities where they can play with their food. Call it "art you can eat" and let children have fun shaping, arranging, cutting and sculpting healthy foods into their own personal creations. Because of their vibrant colors, fruits and vegetables make especially enticing food art.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.


Become a fan of "food fans"

Start with a large whole strawberry and a plastic serrated knife. Starting approximately 1/4 inch from the top of the strawberry, make a cut completely through the strawberry. Make several cuts, parallel to the first one. Press down and "fan out." Add to a fruit salad or use as a plate garnish. You can also use this same technique with peach or pear halves, cucumbers and other produce.


Skewer it

Invite kids to make a colorful "salad on a stick" by arranging cherry or grape tomatoes, feta or fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves on a skewer. Dip in balsamic vinaigrette. You can also arrange colorful fruit chunks on a skewer and dip in honey or lemon-flavored yogurt. For young children, use plastic chopsticks instead of wooden skewers to minimize the risk of painful pokes.


Sculpt it

Make a real potato head that you can eat! Using toothpicks or broken spaghetti pieces, insert grape tomatoes, carrot pieces, broccoli florets, pepper slices, olives, cheese chunks, or other small chunks of food into a baked red potato to create your own funny face. Finish with "hair" made from grated carrots or white daikon radishes.


Shape it Up

Use cookie cutters to cut all kinds of fun shapes from fresh slices of melon, cheese, whole grain breads and other foods.


Serve it with a smile
Create a pizza, open-faced burrito or whole grain toaster waffle that smiles back at you.

  1. For mini-pizzas, start with a whole grain English muffin, spread with tomato sauce, spices and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Invite kids to make a face from mushrooms, olives, broccoli florets, onions and other veggies.
  2. Spread waffles with peanut butter or light cream cheese and provide an assortment of fruit and berries to create a face.
  3. Make a smiling burrito using a corn tortilla, refried beans, whole beans, olives, tomato chunks and grated cheese. Garnish with orange wedge "ears."


Veggie Caterpillars

You will need:

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


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 holes on the top of the tomato to insert thin onion pieces (shown in photo) for antennae.


Recommended Reading

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers are masters of transforming fresh produce into an art form. They have a number of food art books with full colored photos including Food Play and How are you peeling?  Fast Food is my personal favorite because it depicts fruit and vegetable sculptures engaged in various modes of transportation, including physical activities such as walking, bicycling, ice skating, skateboarding and more.


Source for Edible Art Activities: How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, by Connie Liakos Evers (©2012, 24 Carrot Press)