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Family fun with food

By Stacey Stein

As we all hunker down at home with our families, this period of uncertainty is about finding the silver linings. We now have an abundance of extra, unexpected time at home with our kids and everyone is searching for new and creative ways to fill the days. Some parents have added baking to their regular roster of at-home activities. But once kids master the art of making the perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie, what’s next?

We tapped into the minds of parents who have come up with inventive activities incorporating food to keep little kids – and big ones – busy and happy. Bonus: some of these ideas are educational too!

Hold a competition

A self-professed MasterChef addict, 13-year-old Lielle Lichtman wanted to replicate the popular TV show at home. On the show, amateur cooks compete in culinary challenges and a panel of seasoned chefs judges the final creations. Lielle arranged a friendly competition with her two younger brothers, and her parents served as the judges. “I love getting creative in the kitchen and I’ve watched all seasons of the show, even the junior edition,” said Lielle.

For the at-home version, the Lichtman kids had to incorporate a banana into a dish. This one simple ingredient inspired tons of creativity – Lielle assembled an Instagram-worthy smoothie bowl while eight-year-old brother Elie tossed the banana into a bowl with a bunch of random ingredients, including a fruit roll-up.

“The kids had a time limit of 25 minutes, and my husband and I had to judge based on creativity, presentation, taste and not being wasteful,” said mom Jori.

Along the same lines, personal chef Tamara Markus held a snack competition for her three school-aged kids. “I put out a bunch of items, like hummus, crackers, fruits and veggies, and the kids designed their own plates,” she said. The idea was to creatively design a unique – and healthy – snack platter using a combination of different foods. Each child’s final platter design was judged based on originality, use of the snack foods, and how the items were arranged on the plate. “They were all winners,” Markus conceded.

Make food educational

Does your child balk at learning the multiplication table or doing long division? Baking provides a perfect opportunity to sneak in some math – even better, your child gets to enjoy a delicious treat once the “lesson” is done!

“You can challenge kids by doubling recipes and teach them fractions,” said registered dietitian Shannon Crocker, a mom of two teenage boys. “This gets them to use their math skills.” She added that baking also involves science, providing another learning opportunity. “Have your kids Google the science involved and explain it back to you,” Crocker suggested. Not sure how to get started? Cookies are great for new bakers, and fun for kids – you can try making ginger molasses cookies, oatmeal everything cookies, or shortbread cookies.

Another idea is to use baking to teach writing, something teacher Robyn Shapiro has been doing with her two young kids. Her son and daughter first baked cupcakes with her husband and then wrote out the steps on a white board to practice procedural writing. “It was a great way to integrate academics and food fun,” said Shapiro.

Family bonding through DIY meals

School closures mean parents are faced with making several meals at home every day. This is the perfect time to get your kids involved in the kitchen by making DIY meals together.

“This works really well for power bowls, sandwiches or tacos,” said Crocker. She suggested dividing up tasks – for tacos, a parent can cook some ground beef or chicken while one child shreds cheese, and an older child chops up some veggies. “It’s fun family bonding and everyone gets to build their own meal the way they like it,” said Crocker. She added that DIY meals work well for any meal of the day. Crocker did a DIY pancake bar that was a hit with her teens – she put out bowls with berries, chopped oranges, bananas, and sautéed apple slices along with some peanut butter and Nordica Smooth blueberry acai. If you want to try this out with your kids, start off by adding some pizazz to your pancakes – try making these apple cheddar pancakes or these apple pie cottage cheese pancakes.

Kids in charge of the kitchen

Empower your kids – while giving yourself a break – by handing them the run of the kitchen. “This is good for older kids and teens,” said Crocker. Each child picks a day of the week where they get to be chef, scours the fridge and cupboard beforehand to take stock of what food is in the house, and then chooses a recipe that includes items already on hand while noting any ingredients that need to be purchased. “This helps kids understand meal planning, how to read a recipe from start to finish, and how to make a grocery list,” said Crocker. “They might also learn new skills in the kitchen and it keeps them busy.” Crocker said her teens have enjoyed making these bocconcini stuffed meatballs, this macaroni dish and this maple cheddar breakfast sandwich. She added an important point: “Kids are responsible for the clean up.”

More fun food ideas

Technology and an abundance of online tools have enabled many in-person programs to go online, including cooking classes for kids that can be found on platforms such as Instagram Live. This can be a fun activity for parents to do with younger children, while older kids can follow along on their own with minimal guidance from mom or dad.

Riffing on the increasingly popular trend of subscription boxes, some inventive businesses are creating food-focused activity boxes for kids. It’s a win-win for kids and parents on several levels: kids get a package in the mail (always a thrill), parents and kids get to do a fun activity together (bonding time!) and at the end, kids (and parents) get to enjoy a delicious treat.

Online cooking classes for kids: Alison Burke’s company Nourish to You offers free cooking classes for kids via Instagram Live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1:30 p.m. EST. You can find the classes at @nourishtoyou and the posts stay live for 24 hours.

Food-based activity boxes: Jessica Meyer’s company Sweet Sushi ships candy sushi kits all over North America. Each kit includes pre-measured ingredients such as marshmallows, Rice Krispies, candy wasabi, chocolate ginger, along with instructions on how to assemble the various candy sushi creations. Meyer also has a YouTube video demonstrating the steps. Sweet Sushi kits can be ordered at

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