I can’t be the only person amazed by the speed with which Christmas has come around again. For most children, Christmas means presents and yummy food. In this month’s blog, I’m thinking ahead to Christmas presents that could enhance kids’ connection with what they eat, and some festive foodie crafts that might take advantage of the few extra minutes that mums, dads, grandparents, and carers will hopefully find over the holiday period.
Gifts should be a fun treat, so I’m not necessarily looking at ‘healthy’ gifts but those that increase children’s involvement with their food. This could be at any point in the process, from growing food to preparation and planning, to cooking and eating. Here are some ideas:
- Cookbook – While The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book is regular bedtime reading in our house, the recipes are pretty complicated for my young party animal. Look for a book with recipes suited to little people’s abilities, and with any luck, your baby baker may work their way up to being a teenager who can whip up a family meal.
- Wooden spoon – Maybe you could find one that looks different to others in your house, or add some individuality with stripes of paint or even permanent markers.
- Apron – Budding chefs will really look the part with their own apron. You might even be able to get one personalised with their name or photo. Remember they’ll need a small child size.
- Cookery kit – Add to the fun by putting together an apron, wooden spoon and measured out dry ingredients for a cake, packaged up in a cake tin. You could top it off with a child-sized chef’s hat.
- Special plate and cutlery – Having their own plates and utensils can make mealtimes more special, and maybe even encourage children to help with setting the table. If your little one doesn’t like foods touching each other, you could look for a plate with divided sections.
- Outdoor eating – Moving a meal outside can change the experience completely. Make the most of the Aussie summer with a gift of a picnic set, maybe with an outdoor game or ball included.
- Mini-gardener gifts – I’ve often suggested growing vegetables as a way to encourage children to eat more of them. A present of a pack of seeds and a child-sized trowel can help make this happen; you could package them up in a special plant pot. If you have a suitable outdoor space you could even just tape a few seeds inside a Christmas card. For a craft idea, a small pot with a few seeds planted in potting mix would make a thoughtful and inexpensive gift for children to make for family and friends. Used yogurt pots (decorated if you’re feeling arty!) will reduce costs and be planet-friendly. Beans grow quickly (choose the non-climbing kind), or for flowers, you could try vibrantly coloured zinnias or cosmos. Sunflowers are a child’s dream flower but even for the shorter types, you’ll have to allow a little longer for them to grow.
Delicious decorations and food fun
From Christmas decorations to actual foods to eat, there are a myriad of ways to celebrate. Here are just a few:
- Popcorn or puffed rice baubles – Melt marshmallows in a saucepan over a gentle heat, and use them to bind a mixture of popcorn or Rice Bubbles (or other puffed cereal) with some dried cranberries. You might add some chopped green jelly sweets for more Christmas colour. Then children can shape the sticky mix into balls. Allow them to dry a little, then tie thin red or green ribbon around them and hang them on your tree. Note that these are suitable for eating (supervised, because popcorn can be a choking risk) but only when freshly made.
- Biscuit shapes – This traditional decoration has many variations. Check the internet for sweet, gingerbread, or salt-dough biscuit recipes. Either cut them out, shape them yourself, or use bought biscuit cutters, and try not to eat too many so there are some left for the tree! (Note that salt dough is not suitable for eating.) You can make coloured icing but I prefer to use bought icing tubes to make it easier for kids (and for the adults cleaning up). For added bling (with extra adult involvement!), search the internet for instructions for stained glass biscuits. A biscuit outline frames a colourful ‘window’ of melted boiled sweets that will look beautiful as the light shines through it when hung on the tree or in a bright window.
- Super sandwiches – Just as sandwiches are easy to transform into boats or funny faces, they can also make a great Christmas meal. I love the idea of pita bread cut into a Christmas tree shape, spread with avocado, and decorated with halved small cherry tomatoes or chunks of capsicum for baubles. You could add a yellow capsicum star at the top. A slice of green cucumber or a few pretzel sticks would make a great tree trunk. Pita breads, or any bread or wrap, can be cut into Christmas shapes as well, such as star sandwiches (use a biscuit cutter if you have one). You could even shape homemade pizzas. Or just jazz up regular square sandwiches with strips of carrot or cucumber skin as ribbons to make each sandwich a gift from you!
- Fun food – With a little imagination (and internet inspiration) many foods can be given a seasonal twist. Here are a few easy favourites:
- Santa strawberries – take the green end off the berry along with a little flesh to make a flat end, then stand the strawberry on the cut end. Slice about the top quarter off the top; this will be Santa’s hat. Put a teaspoon or two of stiffly whipped cream on top of the larger piece (this is Santa’s head) and put the hat back on top. Add two chocolate sprinkles or small chocolate chips on the whipped cream to make the eyes. Use a toothpick to put a little dab of cream on top of the hat, and to make a few buttons on the front of Santa’s berry jacket.
- Babybel cheese Santa – unpeel the wax from the centre and one half of the a Babybel or other small waxed cheese, leaving the other piece of wax on for the hat. Use 2 spots of black writing icing for the eyes (or black sesame seeds if allergy isn’t an issue) and cut a small circle from the discarded wax for the nose. Use cream cheese to make a beard, a pom pom on top of the hat, and the ‘fluff’ along the bottom of the hat. A tiny strip of red capsicum or writing icing will make a mouth.
- Boiled egg snowmen with carrot hats – You’ll need 2 hard-boiled eggs per child to start with. Trim both ends off all the eggs, to create flat ends, and put one egg vertically on top of the other – ideally put a smaller egg on top of a bigger one. Decorate by using a thin chunk of carrot for a nose, and pop a smaller slice of carrot on top of a larger one to make a top hat. Use a skewer (trimmed to the right length) to hold this cute edible sculpture together. For younger kids, make a hole with the skewer and then replace it with a pretzel stick or stick of uncooked spaghetti. Add currants or dots of black writing icing for eyes, mouth, and buttons, then pretzel arms and a scarf made of a lettuce strip for the finishing touches.
- Snowman cheese sticks – Use black and coloured permanent markers to make a snowman design on the plain plastic on the back of the cheese stick or cheese string wrappers. With black buttons, eyes and hat, an orange nose, and colours of your choice for eyes and scarf, this idea couldn’t be easier!
Have a wonderful time together
Perhaps the best foodie gift for our children is time with a grown-up to cook and eat together. I hope you all find some delightful and delicious time to enjoy with your little ones over the upcoming holiday period.
©Fiona Hinton 2021
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Please note that this blog is for general information only, and should not be taken as a substitute for qualified medical advice. Please discuss medical issues with your child’s doctor before taking any action.
About Fiona: Fiona Hinton is a dietitian, but describes herself as a nutrition translator, taking the science of nutrition and translating it into foods we love to eat, to nourish both body and soul. She has over 20 years of experience as a dietitian, working in a wide range of areas from hospital wards to running her own private practice. Fiona has a special interest in children’s nutrition. As a mum of three school-age boys, she has first-hand experience of the issues associated with feeding young children, such as weaning and fussiness. Fiona specialises in real-life strategies and practical suggestions to convert nutrition advice into food kids will eat. Fiona has collaborated on several books, including one with best-selling children’s food writer Annabel Karmel, as well as training childcare staff in children’s nutrition.