Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Play with Your Food!

Have you ever noticed how many crafts for children involve food? I'm not talking about making food. I'm talking about using food for something other than its intended purpose of being eaten. For example, if you went to public school, you probably made "moroccas" filled with rice or dried beans. Did you ever do sugar drawing, where a bunch of white sugar is poured onto a cookie sheet so that kids can drag their fingers or toys through it to make designs? I'm sure most of us have done the obligatory macaroni necklaces or glued macaroni to a piece of construction paper to make a design.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well, it drives me a little batty. On the one hand, I'm all for encouraging the creativity of children and looking at items from a different perspective. After all, the ability to see something for what it could be rather than what it was intended to be is at the heart of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" motto. However, it drives me crazy to think of all the food wasted in these activities. When you're trying to grow your own food and/or live a frugal life, wasting a pound of white sugar so that your kids will be quiet while you try to whip up a batch of soap or hang the clothes on the line just doesn't seem quite right. Many of the food items used are staples as well: dried beans, rice, pasta, sugar and salt. These are items that most of us cannot grow on our own because of space or climate limitations as well, which means we're wasting things which have used lots of dollars and gallons of oil to reach us. Frustrating! Some of the things might be reuseable after our kiddies are done with them, like the dried beans or rice in a toilet paper roll morocca, but many of them are not salvageable. Who wants to eat macaroni with bits of glue stuck to it? And you can bet that sugar from the sugar drawing is filled with snot, slobber, and plenty of unappetizing bacteria.

Therefore, today I offer up just a few alternatives to these ideas in the hopes that one of our most precious resources, our food, will stay on our plates and in our pantries rather than making its way uneaten to the garbage can.

First, we'll tackle the issue of the homemade shakers/moroccas. Rather than using rice or dried beans or another food item, consider loaning your children use of your stash of buttons. (Doesn't every homesteading mom have a jar filled with buttons, you know, just in case?) After the kids are done gettin' their groove on, you can simply reclaim your buttons by pouring them back into the jar. Some other alternatives are beads, washers or nuts of the home repair variety (though I suppose unshelled nuts would be okay because you could still eat them afterwards), bottle caps, shells, or any myriad of small toys. I'm particularly fond of using all those wonderful little plastic Barbie shoes that no child ever seems to keep on their doll's feet.

Up next is the macaroni necklace. Really these aren't all that bad. Because you're really just sticking them on a string, the pasta is reuseable. If, however, you're dying the pasta with food coloring or your kids are like most kids and stick everything in their mouths, all those macaroni elbows will most certainly go to waste. Again, you could replace the macaroni with buttons, beads, washers or nuts (which usually have nice, big holes to make it easy on young children). OR you could use your favorite rolled oats cereal and let your kids snack on it throughout the day. I've done this with my kids before, and they could barely get the cereal strung before they started eating because it was just so cool to them. If your child doesn't eat all of the cereal, you can hang the necklace up on a tree branch and let the birds and squirrels have a go at it as well.

As far as the macaroni paste pictures go, I recommend replacing the macaroni with something non-edible and non-recyclable, like styrofoam peanuts or those little tabs that come on bread products bought from the supermarket. If you're smart enough not to have any of that laying around your house, you can probably find some on your local Freecycle.

The sugar drawing is easy to remedy if you have access to play sand. Pick a bag of it up at your local hardware store and store it in a bucket with a lid. You can scoop out some sand for playing with on your cookie sheet whenever the mood strikes, and it's reuseable for that purpose. Just pour it back in your bucket, and you're good to go. In fact, if you don't do this activity very often (and if you have even a little bit of neat freak in you, you won't) you can use that bucket full of sand to store store carrots over winter. You can't wash sugar, but you can wash sand for this purpose just to be extra sure you're not getting any nasty kid germs in there with your veggies. Just put your sand in a pillowcase and rinse it.

While certainly not an exhaustive list of childrens crafts that include edible components, hopefully this will give my fellow homesteading and frugal parents a few alternatives to these wasteful projects.


QueenKatofTypos said...

Yeah, I thought something similar when I saw Katie Brown (of Katie Brown's Workshop on PBS) do a project by making houses out of graham crackers, using glue, and attaching things like sticks, leaves, and whatever else you find in your backyard.

Mist said...

Oh wow. That one IS crazy. Why not just use tree bark or some other natural material if you're going to be covering the house with those things anyway? Heck, you could recycle a few plastic pots or milk jugs or cans or cardboard or scrap wood or... Well, you get the picture. I'm preachin' to the choir. ;)

Jenna said...
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Jenna said...

Kinda torn on this... on one hand I too go a tad nutty regarding food waste. Bones go into stock, scraps hit the composter, even meat bits survive to go into the cat bowls.


I've worked as a nanny and I have to confess there IS a good reason food is used for these projects.

Little hands put just about EVERYTHING into little mouths. I'd rather kids nosh on the odd piece of dried maccaroni then swallow packing peanuts. While no one wants their kid to eat straight sugar, it is easier when the inevitable happens to wash out of eyes then sand.

Food, well, it erodes. When Johnny shoves a M&M up his nose, its far easier to deal with then a rock. Not fun... but easier.

In this one instance, I gotta go with the wasteful. I hope when I have kids of my own I can skip it, but when I've watched the masses children? Let's just say self-preservation isn't built in and they can be self-destructive little buggers.

Mist said...

Very good point, Jenna. I certainly wouldn't recommend using the items in my post for children who are still apt to put things in their mouths. My nearly 5-year-olds are beyond that (yay!), but I would be far more cautious with my 2-year-old.

That said, I probably wouldn't want my 2-year-old to have dried pasta or dried beans either, though, because both can present a choking hazard. Parents must always use their discretion and know their child's limits when choosing crafts.