1. Make a bowl of gross but edible worms. Or, if you’ve got a dehydrator, make far healthier Zuke Worms. You can also cook up fruit-juice based gummy snacks.
2. Play a match game with little ones. Simply hide equal portions of foods (try blueberries, cucumbers, and cheese cubes) under small containers on a tray. This makes healthy snacks fun.
3. Encourage kids to throw eaten corn cobs in the grass at your next picnic. Legend in my family says it distracts the bugs. When it’s clean up time, whoever picks up the most cobs wins a coveted window seat on the way home. Surely you can come up with a similar cob-related perk. Added plus, everyone wants to wash their gooey hands before leaving.
4. Learn a bagel cutting technique that teaches a mathematical principle.
5. Let little kids “fish” for snacks. Give them carrot and celery sticks to dip in creamy peanut butter or sunbutter, then use the sticky butter end to “catch” goldfish crackers.
6. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing.
7. Cook something over a campfire or fire pit. Want to get beyond a hot dog on a stick? Try some old classics in the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook or find recipes suited to your dietary needs, including vegetarian and gluten-free, in Another Fork in the Trail.
8. Don’t have the time or fire-safe place to cook outside? Just eat outside. Sit on the front steps or under a tree with your sandwich. Pack an impromptu picnic and take it to the park. Pack a snack in your bike bag and ride till you’re hungry. Food eaten outdoors tastes a zillion times better than the same food eaten indoors.
9. Make pink pasta. Peel and dice a fresh beet or two. Cook until tender in a pan of water. Without draining the water, add a small handful of uncooked pasta (small pasta shapes work best), and cook until done. Your pasta should be light pink! (If you think the presence of beets in the pasta will inspire an insurrection, you can strain out the beet pieces while reserving the cooking liquid, and then dump the hot liquid back in the pan and bring to a boil before adding the pasta. Be sure to eat those beets in front of kids with annoying “yum” noises. Kids love that.)
10. Show kids how to mix a quarter cup or so of juice concentrate (undiluted) into eight ounces of unsweetened seltzer water. Adjust to taste with more juice or seltzer. It has the same carbonation level as soda without sugar or food coloring. We call it burp juice in our house because quick gulps bring on burps.
11. Sing a veggie anthem. Better yet, make up lyrics about favorite foods to accompany a familiar tune. Whose says you can’t rhyme with “kimchi?”
12. Test out miracle berry, a fruit native to West Africa, that temporarily makes sour foods taste sweet. (Usually half a tablet is more than enough.) Let family members dissolve these tablets in their mouths, then discover that cream cheese tastes like cheesecake and biting into a lemon tastes like lemon sorbet.
13. Make popsicles with hidden veggies lurking within.
14. Let each child plant one “crop” in the garden (or porch planter) that’s his or hers to tend. It’s not too late to put in fast-growing plants like sugar snap peas, radishes, and lettuce. Let the kid farmer in charge be the one to check regularly for weeds, watering needs, and harvest times. For more ideas check out Gardening Projects for Kids and for those without yards or community garden plots, try Kids’ Container Gardening.
15. Make frozen yogurt dots. Spoon (or pipe from a plastic bag with a corner cut open) your favorite flavored yogurt in small dots on a baking sheet. Freeze for about an hour, then pop off the dots. Cold deliciousness.
16. It’s fun to chow down adorable meals like those shown in such books as Funny Food, Fun Food For Fussy Little Eaters, and Funky Lunch. Remember, kids are more likely to do the eating if they have had a hand in the making. Use books like these as a starting point for inspiration. And don’t forget to make monster noises as you bite the nose off an clown-shaped sandwich.
17. Let them set up a lemonade stand. Or a watemelon-on-a-stick stand.
18. Make your own ice cream sandwiches. Just glob ice cream between homemade or purchased cookies, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Try different cookie and ice cream variations. Mix-ins work too, like bananas mashed into vanilla ice cream and stuck between two oatmeal cookies. You’ll have to do some immediate taste testing, part of the burden of innovation.
19. Make ridiculously cute miniature treats like “donuts” made from decorated Cheerios, mini “deep dish” pizzas using tortillas cut into circles, and “layer cake” made from stacked and slicked cookies. These ideas come from the book Tiny Treats. See photos of some of the book’s recipes thanks to the Unconfidential Cook.
20. Plant and harvest crops within days by growing sprouts in a jar.
21. Freeze fancier ice cubes. Tuck mint leaves, fresh berries, lemon wedges, or cut up fruit bits in ice cubes trays. You can also freeze lemonade or juice. Hydration suddenly seems more flavorful.
22. Carve a watermelon shark or cat.
23. Set out an assortment of food for kids to make their own lunch-on-a-stick. Simple versions might be a cheese and cherry tomato kabob or a pineapple and grape kabob. (This is not a good project for young ones or kids likely to turn a skewer into a sword.)
24. Eat the occasional color-themed meal. An all green lunch might include a green smoothie, celery sticks, green pea pesto or green pea hummus rolled in spinach wraps, plus green grapes or honeydew. An all white lunch might be steamed cauliflower with lots of white cheddar or provolone melted over it, mashed potatoes, white milk, and banana chunks rolled in dried coconut. Make sure you let the kids help you plan and prepare!
25. Make ice cream in a bag.
26. Try muffin tin meals. This worked wonders for my four kids when they were small. Each child got a six-cup muffin tin. I filled the six openings with different offerings in small amounts. The compartments kept each food item from the sin of touching another food, and the concept was novel enough that my kids were more willing to try something new. Back then, I thought I’d made up the muffin-tin meal concept, but it turns out lots of moms do the same thing. Well, not quite the same; they’re much more clever. Check out Muffin Tin Mondays for all sorts of ideas
27. Go to a pick-your-own place. Right now berries are in season, soon apples will be ready to pick. Here’s how to find a pick-your-own farm in the U.S.
28. Shrink food to a scale that lets kids feel larger. Every now and then, let your children eat from tiny dishes. No need for a tea set, you probably have the right sizes in your cupboard. Use the smallest appetizer plate for a dinner plate, a custard cup or ramekin for soup or cereal, and a shot glass or other tiny vessel for milk or juice. Baby forks and spoons are perfect miniature utensils. Smaller dish size automatically scales down portion size, meaning kids will actually have room for second helpings. Encourage them to serve themselves. They can refill glasses using a tiny pitcher, creamer, or even a small measuring cup with a spout. I know teenagers who still think that eating with tiny dishes is a hoot.
29. Let kids cook with their friends. If your kids are small, set up a “cooking class” for your children and a few pals in your own kitchen. If your kids are teens, let them sign up together for a class at a cooking school to learn pastry techniques or the secrets of French cuisine. Encourage kids of any age to start a regular cooking club. It’s a great way for them to socialize while learning useful skills. They can create menus and shopping lists, then cook the dishes they’ve chosen. Let them build on their interests. They may want to devote one session to making foods mentioned in a favorite movie and the next session to making bento-box lunches. Or set up a cooking competition like “Top Chef” for kids or families, except with less pressure and a lot more fun.
30. Have a watermelon speed spitting contest. “Outside, I said outside!”