When I think about making meals fun, it’s not usually about cutting carrot flowers or making smiley faces with raisins. These are fun, but there are a lot of other ways to help our children be engaged and interested in eating.
Children love things that are visually appealing and they love to be engaged in a story. Here are some simple ways I keep children interested in their meal and help them either try new foods or remember that they really do like broccoli. Go here for more info on children and vegetables.
By the way, my personal favorite is #5.
1. Vary the cut and shape of different foods. For example: carrots can be grated, cut into thick or fine matchstick, sliced into thin or thick moons, tiny squares, mashed, puréed, spiraled, shaved into ribbons and more. Steam tiny red radishes and serve them whole. Raw apples are fun in thin matchsticks or tiny squares. Make triangles instead of squares. Roll rice or thick split peas into little balls and cut polenta into squares for stacking.
2. Make sure each meal has a variety of color, flavors and textures. You don’t need to go overboard with variety, but I am the queen of sitting down to a meal and realizing that everything is white or orange. Try to visualize the meal beforehand. If you end up with a monochromatic meal, grate a little carrot, add some pumpkin seed sprinkles, a sauce or some shredded nori. Anything to make it a little more visually appealing.
3. Add a sauce or sprinkles. Children love things they can add themselves. Try tahini sauce, a splash of brown rice vinegar, pumpkin seed dulse sprinkles or ground toasted nuts or seeds.
4. Serve foods in unexpected ways. It’s kind of fun for a child to sit down to a meal served in 4 small ramekins, each with their own mini spoon. Some children will eat a pureed soup with a straw or from a mug, but not a bowl. Let them use the special occasion cocktail glasses and tea cups, buy kid-friendly chopsticks and eat with toothpicks. I like to use regular ceramic dishes and stainless steel or wooden utensils, not plastic ones, as much as possible.
5. Let the food talk. Create a story. Green beans dance before jumping in the bathtub (child’s mouth). A butterfly (kale leaf) swoops around before landing on a leaf (child’s tongue). A carrot stick walks around the plate tasting all the other foods before deciding they like the soup best. Our imaginations are endless.
6. Set the table. This one doesn’t really fit with making the meal fun, but it does help set the stage for the meal and it adds to the visual appeal. It also helps children see that mealtime is a time set aside for just eating and being together. Keep your kitchen table cleared. Use cloth napkins and place mats, special candles and holders, small vases with flowers or a bowl seasonal treasures picked while on a walk that day. Shared meals are important and creating a space for this to happen doesn’t need to be complicated.
What are your favorite ways to make meals fun?
I love this! You always have such great ideas for kids. I especially like #4. So easy, and so fun. Why haven’t I ever served lunch in ramekins before? One trouble I have is that my daughter is very, ummm, boring when it comes to food. She will eat almost anything, but not if it’s mixed together. So, for instance, she will eat walnuts and raspberries and oatmeal, but try and do someone fun like put them all in the same bowl, and she won’t touch it. So a lot of ideas that I think would be fun, like some sort of healthy “sprinkle” or a wrap, is out. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but sometimes it makes it harder to make things fun.
I know what you mean about wanting foods separate! I was that kind of child. No sauces, butter, anything. I wanted everything plain. 🙂 It will be fun to see if she gets a little more creative with her food as she gets older.