You’ve tried cookie-cutter sandwiches and maybe even succumbed to dessert for dinner—but at a certain point, making mealtime for kids interesting becomes a real challenge, especially now when shaking up the routine takes some imagination. But the key to escaping lunchtime monotony is a simple one, and involves a little rule bending (something all kids enjoy): Why not let them play with their food?
Whether it’s transforming a plate into a rainbow-hued fruit spread or getting creative with raw vegetables, these fun ideas will help fuel their culinary curiosity and encourage them to clean their plates. We tapped two of the craftiest moms we know, DIY book author Jodi Levine and our very own executive creative director, Kate Berry, to share their favorite projects.
For Making Veggies Appealing
Peppers, carrots, and cucumbers were made to be turned into mini trains: Fill the “cargo car” with whatever dips your kids like (Levine recommends hummus) and glue on the wheels with cream cheese. “You can even add ‘smoke’ coming out of the locomotive with a sprig of rosemary,” she says.
In an effort to get her sons to try tomatoes, Levine carefully sliced two grape tomatoes at angles, and fitted them back together on a toothpick in a heart shape. “Full disclosure: It didn’t work!” she says with a laugh—though she’s not discouraged on the first try. She also suggests swapping in other fresh produce, like grapes or strawberries, to make healthy eats look cool.
For Fruit Salads That Wow
The directive from Berry’s 7-year-old daughter, Quinn: A unicorn with a purple sun. “I spread out yogurt as the base, then added whatever I had in the fridge: mango for the horn, blueberry for the eye, grapes and kiwi for the collar,” says Berry. She took a similar approach to the rainbow—the green leaves are lemon balm, but you can use whatever herbs you have on hand—making sure to layer in as many colors as possible to pack in the nutrients from a variety of fruit. All in all, both dishes took about five minutes and look way more impressive than just a bowl of berries.
For Dressing Up the Table
“My boys went through an origami phase,” explains Levine. This manifested itself in the form of rose-shaped paper napkins, a super-easy way to make an everyday meal seem fancy. The full tutorial is on her blog, but you can also freestyle with the silhouettes—quarantine lunchtime has no rule book.
For Kiddie Cocktails
Who says zhuzhed-up ice cubes are only for grown-ups? Berry likes to pick up edible flowers at her local farmers’ market (though you can also order them online at Gourmet Sweet Botanicals) and have her daughter freeze them in trays overnight—even water turns into a special treat if it has mini violets floating around in the glass.
If you grow chamomile, or even have some in your pantry, save the blooms for a pretty tabletop centerpiece. “Quinn pulls the flowers directly from the bouquet and puts them in her tea,” says Berry. After all, everyone loves a tea party.
See more activities to try with your kids:
When All Else Fails, Let Your Kids Draw on the Walls
The Perfect Kids’ Activity Book Does Exist—And It’s Here
Keep Your Kids Busy With These Parent-Approved Projects