Fun and food go together, or at least they should. Food tastes so much better in great company. Cooking is a very different experience when we are having fun with it.
I would venture here and claim that we all want our children to grow up with a healthy relationship with food and good eating habits.
While our intentions are always in the right place, some of these "fun" ways of interacting with food are wasteful, unhealthy, and potentially even dangerous. This is especially true with young children like toddlers and preschoolers.
Here are some examples:
Food as crafting materials
You know, sticking Cheerios on a piece of paper or making a necklace out of pasta. No matter how you cut this, it is wasted food.
What is more important is that it is creating a bad habit.
The idea is to create a child-safe environment so that even if the child eats what they are working with, it will not be harmful. But what are we really teaching our child here?
It is ok to eat what working materials, so the next time you see beads or playdough...dig in!
Forget about your body's signals, if you have food in front of you, please feel free to eat it even if you don't feel hungry.
Is this what we are trying to build here?
Please keep the line between what is food and what is work as clear as possible. Don't blur it out by mixing the two.
Food that looks like non-edible stuff
These are common in birthday parties. We want the food to go with the theme, and so we will find creative ways to shape/color food. They also look great in pictures and they are almost always crowd-pleasers.
Some of the most common examples:
Dessert that looks like dirt with a bunch of worms sticking out of it.
What are we doing here?
For starters, we are unnecessarily overloading our children with sugar.
We are also giving them ideas to eat things that are not food. Why would we do that?
Mind you, I am all for playing outside and having young children interact with nature. If this means eating a handful or two of real dirt, I am ok with that - bugs and all. But I don't know that I would invite my child to do that.
Cookies that look like Lego bricks.
Forget about the dose of food coloring and the sugar rush here, we have more important issues to tackle.
Lego and playing bricks have a long history of being a choking hazard for young children. So now we are adding to that by making an edible version of it for our children and encouraging them to eat it.
Why would they not try to eat lego or playing bricks the next time they see them?
Things that smell like food, but are not food at all!
I am talking about scented markers, erasers, playing dough, stickers...etc.
Oh, where do I begin...
They are not food at all
Sniffing these artificial scents is dangerous
Artificial scents are training our children to look for them when it is time to choose real food, especially if it is accompanied by an image, like in a sticker or a book.
Children actually would try to eat these things. Erasers are a common culprit. Many young children will actually put these scented markers in their mouths.
Candy as Reward
Please stop doing that!
There are so many ways to reward a child that have nothing to do with food and are not nearly as bad for them as candy.
We want our children to have fun and we want to celebrate life's big events with them. But does it have to be with a sugar overload, unhealthy chemicals, and bad habits that could potentially be dangerous?
Please distinctly separate food from work and play. Projects, crafts, and toys are not food and they should never be.
Food has its time and its habits. Within those limits, it could be very fun, festive, and pretty picture-perfect too.