Why Not Let Children Play With Their Food! Whilst being somewhat controversial in tone, children playing with food might at times have some unexpected benefits.
With several reports revealing how seriously the pandemic’s affected our children and young people (both NHS Digital and The Prince’s Trust have recently reported an escalation in mental health concerns and eating disorders in young people), it’s important that we try to introduce positive ways to support them towards a better, healthier quality of life.
Some young people have become overly cautious about leaving their homes for what might be regarded as frivolous, more socially motivated reasons. They’ll go to school and attend extra-curricular activities, but are less than enthusiastic about other non-essential invitations.
Let’s not forget the hours children spend on their devices, on social media, resulting in many forming unrealistic notions of what an attractive body looks like, as well as the associated negative comparisons with their own shape, size and looks.
Finding ways to entice our children and young people out of their rooms is often the most challenging part of the day. But one way may be for you to encourage them to play with their food and have fun as they join you in the kitchen. You could even embellish this by including the opportunity for them to plan and prepare an entire meal of their choosing.
Letting children plan a menu for something relatively straightforward, like a picnic or a buffet, means giving them free rein on the many choices, however unpalatable the final result may be to you. This is about your children having a day that’s theirs to plan, giving them the ‘authority’ to decide how to spend the time, what to eat and drink.
They may decide to plan a picnic in the garden, at the beach, in nearby woods. It’s their call. And the beauty of this is that they’ll often become absorbed with the menu choices, what kind of sandwiches they’d like to prepare, the cakes and desserts to offer. Your role would be purely advisory, providing a little ‘help’ behind the scenes.
Older children may enjoy the additional challenge of being given responsibility for managing what their ‘project’ will cost, maybe even being given a budget to work within. This provides an opportunity to learn the value of money, bringing an extra educational aspect and level of awareness to the task.
‘Playing’ with food in this way is a positive opportunity for children to benefit on many different levels;
Learning about food preparation teaches children basic life skills as well as insight into what works and what doesn’t work, which food groups, tastes and textures go well together, what looks attractive and appealing. They discover that food has to look appetising as well as taste good.
How valuable is it to learn rudimentary skills about food preparation, even down to making a sandwich, boiling an egg, how much mayonnaise to use, how to chop and slice vegetables and fruit; a beginner’s guide to kitchen skills!
They blossom and grow by deciding to host a picnic in a place they might not typically choose, perhaps initially suggesting the garden, but then gaining enthusiasm to move further afield. Or by deciding to be sociable and invite friends along to enjoy their ‘event’; either option signifying improvements as they excitedly anticipate sharing the results of their labours.
Children and young people often enjoy experimenting, sampling and eating what they’ve prepared themselves, testing and tasting their culinary accomplishments. This is often a winning outcome, especially if they’ve had issues around eating and food.
Confidence and self-esteem are improved when new skills are successfully exercised. Giving praise and letting them feel proud at having done something good ‘on their own’ delivers an important boost. And, even if the day’s not an out-and-out success it’s important to pick out aspects that were done well, highlighting their accomplishments and lessons learned, so turning it into a good day in several ways.
Clearing up afterwards adds a level of adult responsibility to their enterprise. ‘You’ve made the mess, now tidy up’, adds an important reminder that finishing a job properly includes putting things away and returning them to where they belong.
The financial, budgeting element of organising a food-related event is important for older children, working out what to buy, what they can and can’t afford and then perhaps finding a cheaper alternative. It can be a fun challenge, but also relevant from a basic money management perspective, an important life skill to learn as they work out how to compromise, get what they need and then proceed.
We all enjoy eating, drinking and socialising. Letting children ‘play with food’ helps them feel more comfortable around it, whilst also teaching valuable skills for life, talents that will stand them in good stead when they have to make important choices in the future.
Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist – lifestyletherapy.net