It’s hard to get a toddler to eat clean — as in what’s on their plate and what flies off their plate. Many parents cringe at the thought of their children poking, prodding, mashing, and throwing their food around. I’ve seen kids smash a whole meal around the room, like a tornado came barreling through. No wonder why parents cringe.
Turns out all that mess might actually be good for us. Through play, kids ask questions and learn about the world. It encourages a place to be relaxed and have a bit of fun, which leads to food exploration and the joy of eating. Words, textures and key developmental concepts are all associated with food. Getting kids in the kitchen sparks curiosity and allows them to explore their five senses. Kids who are encouraged to play with their food are more likely to try new things and eat a more balanced diet.
“Play primarily evolved to teach children all kinds of skills, and its extension into adulthood may have helped to build cooperation and sharing among hunter-gathers beyond the level that would naturally exist in a dominance-seeking species.” Play was necessary for survival and served as a precursor to what we value in a mate. It signaled non aggressiveness in men, and youth and fertility in women.
By keeping things fresh and exciting, play reduces stress, stimulates the mind, and boosts creativity. When we take time to play, we engage the creative side of our brain and spark new ideas. Creativity involves blending elements and ideas in unusual ways. It requires getting messy. Creative people are more adventurous, willing to take risks, and prefer ambiguity. “Being open to all your experiences with a desire to explore your inner and outer worlds with curiosity and wonder, has been found to be the number one predictor of creativity. Especially when this involves stepping out of your comfort zone.”
Relish in the moments where you loose track of time and place and you’ll find your work more productive and pleasurable. With play, we improve relationships, learn to trust, and, therefore, more open to trying new things. It isn’t just about goofing off, it’s an important part of our well being. If play in the workplace strengthens bonds and improves job performance, playing with our food surely does the same in our homes. It’s not only important for our kids to play with their food, it’s important for adults as well.
We used to rely on older generations to pass down traditions and essential cooking skills. Today we are lacking valuable time in the kitchen, we skip the lessons and go directly to fast food. Many compare their elementary cooking skills to the haute cuisine of top chefs featured on cooking shows and social media. We have immediate bias that we aren’t good enough to cook. Every master has to start somewhere, and they fail over and over on their way up the mountain. Cooking is not about perfection, it’s about nourishment. If we don’t know how to nourish ourselves, how do we expect to nourish our families or our planet? It only takes one foot forward to get the ball rolling.
Many cooking shows and social media feeds paint a neat and tidy kitchen environment, yet this picture is wildly misleading. The way to any mountain top is through trial and error. Just like creativity, mastery requires messy repetition and ambiguity. If our grandparents are no longer teaching us how to cook, we need to do it ourselves. Why don’t we utilize play? Play is crucial for development. It offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, ignites laughter and joy, and enhances connection. There’s only one Martha Stewart, Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten. No one needs to measure up to these goddesses and the others on their level. We simply need to start, so we can nourish our souls.
What we can learn from play (like our kids)….
- Get messy: stop following the rules (and recipes). Chop, sizzle, and fry without worry — leave the cleanup for the end.
- Get curious: ask questions and get into the kitchen to find the answers.
- Get out there: explore new tastes, smells, flavors, textures and combinations of all the above.
- Have fun: rather than seeking perfection, keep laughing and enjoy the journey.
I’m Callie, and I’m the Founder & CEO of Nonna Eats, a Boulder (CO) startup dedicated to fostering community through food. I have experience running a variety of culinary teams, as well as web design and branding.
About this publication
This is a series of stories about reclaiming the art of eating and gathering. Through working with the highest quality chefs and producers, we know how to eat well. If you’d like to read more, please follow. Originally posted on nonnaeats.com.