Play with Your Food

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My artsy daughter Sabrina is a tactile learner, always touching things to see how they work. Recently, we were shopping for oil pastels, and she asked the salesclerk at the art supply store if she could try out a few varieties to see how "squishy" they were.

Perhaps this penchant for touch is an artist thing, because the salesperson didn't find her request unusual in the slightest. In fact, he kept open samples of each pastel brand specifically for such occasions. He and Sabrina had quite the conversation, all about how the squishiest oil pastels were best.

This quality may be great for an artist, but it's not so great at the dinner table. It's simply not polite to roll each pea between your thumb and forefinger before popping it in your mouth. And poking the mashed potatoes to feel for lumps? That's downright insulting to the chef!

We do all we can to encourage Sabrina's artistic endeavors, but we also want her to have good table manners. As a result, hardly a night goes by when we don't snap, "Sabrina – UTENSILS!" She tries to remember, but sometimes those tactile temptations are just too great to resist.

One afternoon last school year, I was staring into the fridge planning dinner when Sabrina came home from school, bubbling with excitement. She told me all about how she had received a straight-A report card, maintaining her 4.0 average for the year. I decided right then to make a "No-Silverware Dinner" so Sabrina's day could go on being perfect, with no use-your-utensils scolds from Mom and Dad.

I set the table with plates, cups, and plenty of napkins, but no silverware. Our dinner that night was fun for everyone and reprimand-free for Sabrina. We all enjoyed that dinner so much, we've repeated it often.

Here are some of our family's favorite dishes on our no-silverware menus:

  • Pigs in a Blanket – Hot dogs baked in biscuit dough or crescent rolls with honey mustard dipping sauce

  • Cheeseburger Hoagies – Ground beef with melted cheese and onion slices on hoagie rolls

  • Pizza Bagels

  • Chicken Fingers on a Stick – Served with honey mustard or sweet and sour dipping sauce

  • Mini-Quiches

  • Calzones – Tuna melt calzones (tuna salad and cheese baked into a folded-over pizza crust) or ham and cheese "calzones" (chopped ham with mayo, mustard, and cheese baked into a folded-over pizza crust)

  • Quesadillas – Served with salsa and guacamole

  • Snail Snack Sandwiches – Made with a thin layer of cream cheese, deli meat, and lettuce leaves rolled in a tortilla, sliced into "pinwheels"

  • Oven-Baked Potato Wedges – Served with olive oil and garlic salt

  • Vegetable Flowers with Homemade Ranch Dip – Baby carrots, celery stalks, radish slices, cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices


  • How do you encourage kids' creativity while maintaining their manners? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas.

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