Go ahead. Play with your food.
That’s our tag line for Plot to Plate, and I can’t help but admit I love it. Even more so as of Wednesday, when Melissa and I got to share an edible play date with some 50 or more creative kids and LiveWell Longmont at the Longmont Downtown Farmers’ Market. As part of LiveWell’s mission to promote healthy eating through early educational opportunities, we’re hosting an edible activity booth highlighting seasonal produce at the market the first Wednesday of each month. For this first event, we featured cool cucumbers…but the stars, of course, were the kids who came to visit, and their marvelous inventions.
As a new parent, aligning play with food will no doubt taunt and even haunt me at times in years to come, but that’s ok. Because, there will also be magic.
“Can I eat it now?” asked one young boy as he proudly held up his creation for a photo. Others were overheard talking about adding toppings like hummus or cottage cheese when they got home. Faces beamed as plates were gingerly carried away. Dave brought Felix by to
get squished with fierce cuddles see us, and it made my heart swell a little to see my little 10-month old’s eyes widen in awe at the bright colors, swirls, lines and designs of the vegetables and the art kids made with it. By the end of the evening, we must have seen 60 kids, all of whom created incredible, edible art, and/or approvingly sampled the simple and nutritious refrigerator pickles we had on hand, taking home the simple kid-friendly recipe cards.
It’s amazing how appealing produce can be when it decides to play dress-up with imagination, becoming caterpillars, trains, sea monsters, flowers, and a limitless universe of possibilities. Throw toothpicks and maybe a lego or two into the mix, and WOW!
Of course, magical as moments may be, there is no magic “fix”. Now that Little Monkey’s taste buds are developing, and his preferences made clearer, our happy, easygoing eater is showing signs of occasional fastidiousness. At breakfast, he may pointedly clamp down his jaw surveying his porridge, while pointing, grasping for, and nearly hyperventilating at the sight of his current favorite, blueberries. All we can do as parents, I suppose, is continue to expose, expose, expose, and have fun with the journeys our children take wherever we can.
I saw this fascinating TED Talks video the other day, which focused on correlations between the decline of play and the ride of mental health issues. Play, it said, is nature’s means of ensuring young mammals acquire the skills they need to develop into healthy, successful adults. This message has been persistently popping up lately, through new studies and commentary, reminding the world of the psychological and educational advantages of learning and exploring through play. Wednesday night made me reflect more, and emphasized for me where I stand. It’s sad when we see play getting the life squeezed out of it, or when it’s squeezed out of life. Whether the context is a work-addicted, weary world that values hours logged over quality and efficiency or budget cuts and focus on rigor meaning less recess, free exploration, and time in the day for kids to make choices and create on their own.
As we grow, we learn and learn to accept life is never ever all about play. There are times to buck up, even with food, including “have to try”. There is a point where we all have to suck it up and work hard even when we don’t want to, as contributors of society and people who do need to eat, clothe ourselves, and have shelter. But isn’t everything so much better when it’s at least a little playful?
Next month at the Downtown Farmers’ Market we’ll be exploring zany zucchini. Come see us if you can! We’ll have zucchini chips and fun edible supplies for your children and your inner child. You’ll see, we take our play seriously. 🙂
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