Play with your food!
The case for why children should play with food.
We have heard it a million times: the way we behave with eating food is shaped during the earliest years of our lives.
But what does that really mean? Does it suggest that exposing a toddler to broccoli will make him a less fussy eater? Does it mean taking our kids on Sundays to visit orchards will make them more conscientious of food systems? Does it imply that if we honor the time spent around the dining table our children will be more willing to preserve the social role of meals?
Yes, that is all true. And as far as I can tell, we should all be doing more of that.
But there is something else that have all heard a million times: “Do not play with your food.”
As we were skimming through academic papers on the subject of infant eating behaviors, we came across the work of Jérémie Lafraire, a young French cognitive philosopher who has written extensively about the factors that modulate eating behaviors among children. Lafraire often writes about how children become fussy eaters not because they don’t like the food they are served, but because the moment of eating is charged with negative social and emotional stimuli. Remind yourself of the last time you fed your son or daughter, or of the last time you went to a dinner party with parents and their young children. There is a high probability that you have memories of a stressful and unpleasant situation. There was probably food flying across the table, a crying kid because somebody ate his French fries, a parent repeatedly reaching to the floor to pick up the kid’s spoon and an adult saying, in a threatening tone of voice, “stop playing with your food!”
Lafraire is categorical, “restriction and pressure to eat, creates an emotionally negative environment around food, with negative consequences for children’s reactions to food.” And yet that is what we do most of the time: we restrict and exercise pressure over our kid’s diets. What seems obvious is often overlooked by most of us. We tend to ignore that if we create an ambiance of stress and anxiety around food, we can’t expect our kids to be all that interested about what is on their plate.
Our research, paired with a few benevolent experiments on the children around us, i.e. our very own children, inspired us to think that if we wanted kids to be more daring when it comes to choosing their food, more responsible when it comes to thinking about their planet, and more humane when it comes to recognizing the social role food has in our lives, we needed to create positive stimuli that could be served with every meal.
PlayfulFoods is a creative project where we used augmented reality and storytelling to create an experience which encourages kids to play with their food. We are advocates that play is an effective incentive to bridge the unfortunate gap that we have complacently created between our children and the food they eat everyday.
PlayfulFoods has a mission to inspire more kids to be curious and interested eaters. If you’re for the idea of extending play onto the dining table, we’d love to get in touch and hear your comments and ideas.