Don’t Play with Your Food

How many times have you heard those words? They were featured often in my life with Step-father #1.  Usually it was when faced with something I seriously did not want to eat.

Lima beans were a regular feature in the conversation. I hated lima beans; their taste, the texture, the smell. Still do. And don’t even get me started on liver. But liver wasn’t a big player in the meal time power struggles due to its reliable and rather abrupt reappearance immediately after ingestion. Lima beans weren’t as reliable, they usually just made me gag. (TMI yet?)

I would push the lima beans (any beans really) or peas (almost as bad) around hoping that scattering them about the plate would be mistaken for them actually making it to my mouth. It never worked and I spent many extra hours seated alone at the dinner table with a plate of cooling food in front of me and the words “You’ll sit there until you eat it all!” ringing in my ears.

Eventually it would be bedtime and I would be released from my bean-imposed confinement and allowed to retire the battlefield.  In a week, maybe two, dinner would once again feature the offending legume and we would repeat this delightful family ritual.

Whoa! That’s not how I planned to start this post but it sure feels good to get that off my chest.

Want to share any of your cherished childhood mealtime memories? Please, it will make me feel so much better to know it wasn’t just me.

Now, what I really want to talk about are the benefits of playing with your food. Yes, there are benefits (shut up Mother, it’s my blog!).

Play enhances attention:

When we play with our food, we are actually paying attention to what we’re eating. In paying attention, we are more likely enjoy what we’re eating and to recognize when we’ve eaten enough. Yes, playing with your food can be a diet aid.

All too often we view eating as a chore, or something we need to do before we can get back to doing something more pleasurable or important.  Is it only me or have you ever found yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the clock and eating your way to the bottom of a box of cookies while your mind is working away on something completely unrelated?

Play makes mealtimes fun:

This doesn’t have to mean actually playing with the food on your plate. I certainly don’t mean sticking asparagus spears up your nose and making noises like a walrus, but if that’s your thing who am I to complain (as long as you don’t do at one of my dinner parties)? It can be giving dishes silly names, creating whimsical presentations, or making up stories about where things come from. How much more likely would it have been for me to try choking down those damned lima beans if someone had made a game of it?

Play can be relaxing:

Adding a bit of play to the preparation, presentation and sharing of meals can help us slow down and enjoy the process, the food and our companions. I firmly believe the quality of our energy influences the quality of our product, in this case food. A happy, relaxed cook produces better meals and happy relaxed eaters.

Play is creative:

Playing with food can spur your imagination to create new recipes or add more enjoyment to preparing your tried and true family favorites.

When I cook it almost always ends up like play. With rare exception, I’ll start with an idea, a chopped onion and some garlic. It seems no matter how many ingredients I use, or how many pots and pans I dirty, it all ends up in one big skillet. The creating makes me happy and that happiness flavors all my dishes.

So ignore your mother’s voice and go ahead, play with your food.