Our daughters love to help me make sugar cookies, pressing cutters into the dough and decorating them with frosting, colored sugar and candy. When they were young, I expanded their fun by letting them cut other foods into shapes to use for sandwiches, snack bites or fun kebobs on a skewer.
Their creativity moved to another level when they created edible “scenes” on a plate, small tray or sheet of waxed paper. Our young designers created rainbows, outer space, flower gardens and more.
I had an ulterior motive with these activities: I was able to get them to try new foods. If they wanted to use an ingredient they had never eaten before, it had to be tasted first. To encourage the tasting process, I provided a small bowl of ranch dressing for vegetables or chocolate hazelnut spread for fruit.
To encourage culinary creativity in your own kitchen, start by washing fruits and vegetables, and requiring kids to wash their hands. To avoid food waste, set out small portions of several ingredients – enough for kids to have a good snack or light meal.
To make shapes, you’ll need fondant or cookie cutters, often found in sets at craft and housewares stores. Fondant cutters are typically smaller. Metal cutters work best, but plastic cutters are safer for preschool children. Demonstrate the safe way to use a cutter by placing it atop the food item and pressing down with the palm of your hand.
Elementary school children can use kid-safe knives with plastic or nylon blades that actually cut.
Here are just a few suggested ingredients:
Foods good for creating shapes:
• Sliced lunch meats such as ham, bologna, salami and pepperoni
• Cheese slices or block cheese cut into ¼-inch slices
• Fruits cut in half or sliced thinly, including strawberries, apples, pears, watermelon, pineapple, kiwi and cantaloupe
• Vegetables such as zucchini, sliced peppers and thinly sliced carrots
• Fruit roll-ups
Bases for cut shapes:
• Crackers (all shapes and sizes)
• Waffles (good for fruit)
• Cucumbers and carrots, sliced on an angle to create ovals
• Sandwich bread slices (white, wheat, raisin, etc.)
• Tortillas (flour or corn)
Spreads are optional, but help secure shapes to the base. Try cream cheese, peanut butter, cheese spreads, chocolate hazelnut spread, honey and jelly.
Edible decorations for food murals:
• Whole fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, grapes, raspberries, grape tomatoes and peas
• Broccoli and cauliflower florets, raw or cooked
• Mozzarella balls