Silly food presentation: what do you do? Talk amongst yourselves.

Let’s start with Duane’s example:

This hardly counts as a hack but I thought you’d find it cute. We’re trying to get better at enforcing the "nobody gets down from the dinner table, nobody has dessert until everybody is finished with their dinner" rule in the house, which means attention must be paid to the two year-old boy.

I’m on duty and am told, "Get your son to eat his carrots." On his plate are baby carrots, ziti, and a few other things. Creativity strikes, and I stick the baby carrots in the ziti. They look like little orange hot dogs. Not only does the little guy go crazy for them (he immediately starts trying to make his own), but my 6 year-old daughters gets in on the act and starts making them as well. I have no idea how it tasted, but they didn’t seem to care :).

Okay. Here’s one of those times when one of my abstract parenting philosophies conflicts with real-life kid-raising. I’ve always felt that one shouldn’t resort to presentation antics in order to get kids to eat. Food is nourishment, not entertainment. Smiley face pizzas? Please.


I have two super-finicky kids. Who only eat the "plain" versions of what I prepare for dinner. Who reject entire categories of food. So who do you think has stuck steamed broccoli spears into a bed of rice and presenting them as "baby trees?"

Another example: my kids used to only eat plain spaghetti until my husband copped a fake Italian accent, started singing fake opera while cooking, and dubbed his basic tomato/basil preparation "Daddy’s Special Sauce." The kids devoured it and declared it "the best meal they’d ever had."

I realize that this discussion assumes that one should try to convince one’s kids to eat. That assumption is questionable; many, including Ellen Satter, who I greatly respect, suggest that you should simply put the food on the table and then let the kids take it from there. For the purposes of this conversation, however, let’s just go down this road a bit farther.

So. Tell us the silly, ridiculous, bizarre or otherwise entertaining ways you’ve marketed food to your kids. I’m not talking Mickey Mouse pancakes here (because who doesn’t like pancakes?); I’m looking for the crazy-measures-to-get-kids-to-eat stuff.

Here’s what my Twitter buddies came up with:

jenlicata: "We’ve told them that certain foods will make them make certain noises (like eating this bean will make you baa like a sheep)."
Flippee: "Give them a straw for thin food such as soup, yogurt, etc."
MayberryMom: Creates a face out of whatever’s on the plate. (Piles of black beans for eyes, ketchup for a mouth, etc.)
kiddio: Calls the plum pits "dinosaur eggs."
robnh: Offers to "smash" any rejected food. Then her daughter will eat it. Hm. A texture thing maybe?
leeanthro: Finds everything gets eaten when using chopsticks.

Related: Creative ways to present unfamiliar foods


  1. says

    Actually, my daughter (4y) doesn’t like pancakes. (Too soft, too chewy.) So my attempt at getting her to even interact with pancakes began at trying to make them smaller and with crispier edges.

    I got a Wilton cake decorator squeezy bottle and cut the opening a little larger. Then I thin the batter down a bit, and with that, I can make small shapes and designs. My daughter’s favorite is when I make letters, which turn out about 1.5-2″ tall. They are crispy on the edges and last a while on the plate if she’s playing with them. She has yet to eat one, but she will in time.

    This method also gives me a way to let her make the pancakes, because she can stand on a stool at the electric griddle and squeeze out her own designs.

  2. J says

    Last week my 2 year old daughter suddenly refused to eat peas. My husband lined them up on her plate and for every pea she ate, she got to feed one to the dog. She ate all of hers and then asked for more.

  3. Allen K. says

    Calvin: “NO!!!”
    Calvin’s father: “Good thinking, Calvin. It’s toxic waste, and will turn you into a mutant.”
    Calvin’s mother: “There MUST be some other way of getting him to eat!”
    Calvin: “Ahh… I can feel it working…”

  4. Joyous says

    “Food is nourishment, not entertainment?” What, you’ve never eaten fondue? Fruit flambé? Heck, even radish roses. Why shouldn’t food be fun?

    My mom used to cut strips of meat off pork chops and call them “porklets.” It was all about the name. :)

  5. says

    Everything looks good in color! Take a hint from green eggs and ham, and get to know your food coloring. Make blue noodles, pink pancakes,and green milk.

  6. says

    Actually I’m with joyous — food is for more than just nourishment, otherwise we’d all be eating plain tofu and taking vitamins. Eating is supposed to be a multi sensory experience that you actually enjoy. That certainly doesn’t mean food fights every night, but there’s certainly room for creativity. Did this Ellen person never make airplane noises while feeding the baby? At what age, pray tell, must one stop enjoying their food and just shut up and eat?

    Another simple trick that works wonders with the 2yr old, by the way, is to put his food on my fork and pretend I’m going to eat it, and then look flabbergasted when he bites it back off. Works well with finger food, too, provided that you pretend like he has bitten your finger. Every single time. You’d think the boy would tire of it.

  7. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Heh. My stern FOOD IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT was exaggerated for effect — I’m not really that much of a stickler. For example, last year I bought a box of Halloween-themed Apple Jacks with Eyeball Marshmallows because, well, because it was so…over the top. Eyeball marshmallows? We were plenty entertained.

  8. Uly says

    I don’t do “tricks to get kids to eat”, but I certainly do work to make food look attractive. Everybody prefers food that looks pretty or that has a nice name – kids get into “little trees”, but grown-ups like “Organic broccoli carefully sauteed in butter from upstate New York, with a touch of salt and a hint of rosemary” a lot more than “Broccoli”.

    And everybody prefers to have a meal that looks nice than one that’s just slopped onto a plate – it’s just that kids get into face pizzas where adults might like fancy garnishes.

    So, yeah, I make carrot hearts and cucumber roses and all, and half our pizzas are on waffles – because it takes so little effort and it just *looks nice*.

  9. Tracy says

    We rephrase names of foods into things our super picky son will at least try.

    He devours pasta in butter, but won’t try tomato sauce, even though he devours pizza. Hence, lasagna became “pizza noodles,” which he now eats. Quesadillas became cheesy pita, that sort of thing.
    It’s not foolproof, but some things it works for.

  10. SW says

    We have an 18-month-old who, like many toddlers, seems to subsist on nothing more than half a cracker crumb most days, and I try very hard not to worry about that. I don’t believe in bribing, threatening, forcing when it comes to food. I make him breakfast, lunch and dinner and sit with him at the table (as a family at dinner, and sometimes the other meals too) and he eats what he wants and I try not to do the “just one more bite, please, for mommy” routine, though I have been tempted, believe me.

    But what you’re talking about in this hint is having fun–and I very much believe in that. When you describe the spaghetti dinner, that’s something your girls will remember forever. That’s a family tradition; something they’re likely to recall fondly when they’re parents themselves. And, if anyone says there is anything wrong with that, ignore them. Completely.

    -Susan W.

  11. Andrew K says

    My wife and I are lucky enough to have a little boy who just likes stuff. As long as we’re eating it, he likes it (knock wood.) Generally the only trouble we have is when we’re trying to serve him something other than what we’re having. Kind of like pretending you’re going to eat their food, I guess, but different.

  12. chris says

    We’re in the toddler “I only eat waffles and bananas” phase this month and we realized we can get her to eat ANYTHING if it is on the waffle. Crammed peas into the waffle holes, she loved it. Mash up cooked veggies and spread on the waffle, she loved it. Waffle holes are deep and hold a surprising amount of food.

  13. Katie says

    The other night I was making edamame (in the shell) and decided to get my finicky kids to try it. I told them they were “zipper beans” and showed them how to pull the string (zipper) to get the beans out. They also figured out how to squeeze them too, and both ate a full serving! I let my daughter dip her beans in ketchup though, as she wasn’t crazy about the bean taste.

  14. GPV says

    When my husband is in charge of dinner, he comes up with clever names for spur-of-the-moment pantry creations. “Cowboy chuckwagon” is cut-up hotdogs in baked beans, served with cornbread on the side and stories of how real cowboys cook this way out on the range. His culinary coup d’etat, however, was Pirate Chowder, a concocation of canned crabmeat, shrimp, and lord knows what turned into a stew–like he used to make when he was a pirate. The kids ate it up, literally and figuratively.

  15. jamie says

    Last night the happy “kidney bean family” was devoured one-by-one by our 3 y/o. First the boy, then the girl, the mom, the dad, the grandma, the dog. Oddly, the teacher was spared…

  16. Harmzie says

    This reminds me of the book “I will never, not ever eat a tomato” by Lauren Child. My older children (8 & 6) got into the notion of “orange twiglets from Jupiter” even though they already liked carrots. However, I had to hold them back from eating the whole bag, lest they turn orange!

    I can usually determine to what degree my 3yo son has dug his heels in by attempting to eat his meal. If he lets me, he really doesn’t want it. If he shreiks “NOOOO!!!”, he’s just doggin’ it.

  17. sally says

    Cowboy Eggs (regular scrambled eggs).

    Rock Band Banana.

    Spiderman meat (pork carnitas).

    “This is called a super delicious mini apple, and I got it just for you”.

    All used in the past 24 hours chez nous.

  18. says

    We’re boring, so our kids come up with their own entertainment. We just allow it.

    Like, a couple days ago, Miss R decided to eat pasta through a straw. Seriously, she threaded the noodle up the straw to the end, and sucked it up from there. Keeps the whipping around while being sucked in thing down low, too. ;) Yeah, it’s eating with your hands, but she’s not 4 yet… not a fret.

    My kids also eat various things in imagination when they eat – trees, dinosaurs, mommy (I eat YOU mommy! NOM, CRUNCH!… I just say ‘nnooooooo, don’t eat MOMMY!’). My mom also makes maps in the oatmeal, and they eat the continent, state, country, whatever. We did this when I was little, too. OH, NO, you ate SWITZERLAND! Did you eat any mountain climbers? Ibex? Mountain goats? Boulders? Oh, no, not a GLACIER! (etc.) And yeah, there are a lot of all-caps in that last bit, but we play it super-dramatic for effect. ;)

  19. erika says

    My daughter was a fabulous eater – anything and everything – until she turned two and we brought home her baby sister, and suddenly her grapes were too sticky, her blueberries were too dirty, her string cheese was too stringy. You get the idea. We tried not to push it too much and eventually she came back around, but she’s still very picky.

    She won’t eat crusts, but instead of just trimming them off we cut out the center of her sandwiches with large cookie cutters. We arrange veggies into smiley faces, as another commenter wrote. We also aim for fancy presentation – fish-shaped plates and flower-shaped plates from seasonal collections, and lots of little ramekins for dips or small servings of veggies.

  20. Kimberly C says

    I have a blessedly good eater (knock wood) the only thing that I think that I have ever (not on purpose) gotten her to eat by name alone was “circle bread”- the little circles of bread that are left out when you make an egg in a basket- which is the only way that I can fry an egg.

  21. Lauren says

    My daughter eats pretty well, but she especially likes dipping (any food into any dip). It’s messy but totally worth it. Dip ideas: mix honey or ranch dressing into plain yogurt, or use ketchup, soy sauce, butternut squash soup, guacamole, salsa, etc.

  22. says

    For my fussy little girl it’s all in the presentation. I pack bentos for her every day as she loves to find an octopus sandwich on a bed of blue noodles or quail eggs looking like mice. Her new favorite easy meal is a sandwich shaped like a dumpling that she decorates herself with edible markers.

  23. says

    I firmly belief my almost-five-year-old sometimes requests foods she thinks I won’t give her, just to get my goat. Sometimes, I give them to her. Peanut butter in a bowl with crackers? Not that much different than a peanut butter sandwich. Frozen veggies poured out of the bag and into a bowl are still veggies….

  24. says

    I have to agree with the others that say presentation IS important. But what bothers me is all the “Parenting” magazines I get that have you dressing up things like cakes and cookies. Sorry, but those things really don’t need dressing up. It’s funny, but they get eaten even if I made them look like poo. THAT’S when I have a problem with dressing up food. As for the GOOD food – yes, presentation is important. Personally I love sushi – and one of the things I love about it is how “pretty” it all looks. Why can’t kids get “pretty” food too (on their level). Companies spend a lot of money marketing junk food – it seems to be reasonable that we should combat that with our own marketing “campaign” for carrots and broccoli!

  25. Lisa says

    My husband came up with asking my 2 yr. old what color something on his plate is. Jr. will often say some off the wall color even though he knows all of his colors. Then, hubby will ask “Is it (insert color named) when you put it in your mouth? The result is Jr. eating it to find out. They do something similar with meat. What is that? Jr. will often say chicken is an elephant or something equally strange. You get the idea.

  26. STL Mom says

    I think I’ll be making meatloaf cupcakes tonight – thanks, Miechelle!
    My daughter went through a phase when she didn’t want to drink milk anymore, just water or juice. Then we started calling milk “cow juice” and it became her favorite drink again!

  27. julybirthday says

    We’ve started turning our 3 yr-old’s negative food comments into games. He’ll say That’s yucky! and we say, Do you mean…YUCKY DELICIOUS? Then we make exagerrated eating noises, tasting the item and saying, MMMMMmmm, that IS yucky! (As if it were delicious). He starts laughing and eating so he can play, too.

  28. PL says

    I totally agree with Uly & SW (and gleaned a lot of new ways of presenting food from the rest of you!)I love Ellen Satter, have (for the most part) followed her advice, and luckily have a wonderful eater. But, my definition of a wonderful eater is just that my toddler isn’t picky generally–I’ve learned to be okay with the fact that sometimes she’s just not that into eating. But, we try really hard every night to sit as a family and all eat the same thing (so there’s nothing suspicious about what’s on her plate), let her eat it if she wants/not if she doesn’t (so it’s not suspect, as in “what’s wrong with this that you have to convince me to eat it”), and we don’t encourage more bites if she says she’s done. The whole Ellen thing is that it’s your job to provide the food, and the kids job to eat it or not.

    I believe that, but I also think eating should be pleasurable, not drudgery–it should be nurishing, doesn’t have to be entertainment, but it should be enjoyable!!–I think that part of my responsibility is to make food that is healthy, and tastes good and is appetizing if I expect my daughter (who at age 2 has no other means of obtaining food!) to like to eat and not be picky. I take appetizing to mean in appearance as well as texture and taste. So, if cute names, and animal shapes and dips that make food less dry/more tasty make food appetizing for my daughter, then that’s part of what will make her LIKE to eat good, nutritious food.

    If only I had more creativity, our foods would have a lot better names around here too! Right now, a LOT of foods are being cut into shapes with cookie cutters!

  29. PL says

    wow–sorry–my post was a lot longer than I thought it would be! I was a foodie before I had my daughter, and really want her to love food, so this topic really touched a nerve. I’m sure given how important this is to me, my daughter will end up refusing all foods but the chicken nuggets she recently discovered on a playdate by the time she’s 3! :)

  30. mini_pixie says

    hey PL, I combat the pre-packaged chicken nuggets with ones of my own- chicken breasts cut into nugget sized pieces, marinated in low-fat ranch dressing, dipped in breadcrumbs and cooked on the foreman grill. works equally well with that pesto sauce from costco- just watch out for the cheese, it browns quickly.

    My 2 year old is a great eater for the most part- she definitely likes cookies, cake & ice cream, but she’ll eat all the snap peas you put in front of her, no funny names required. Her new sister will be coming home soon, so I’ll have to watch out for the onset of extra pickyness. (Thanks for the heads up on that, Erika)

    The funniest thing for me is that neither my husband or I like raw tomatoes or mushrooms, so when we are out at restaurants we would always give them to her. She ate them for a while, but has stopped- I think she caught on to the fact that we don’t eat them. Can’t say I blame her for not eating them, but at least I tried! :)

  31. zgma says

    Like others mentioned, we do the plates with faces out of veggies. Sometimes I put a slice of bread or ham down as the face, then pieces of red bell pepper for the mouth, cherry tomatoes, slices of snap peas, hard boiled egg halves, etc. for the nose and eyes; pieces of cheese for the ears; and my favorite: mung bean sprouts for hair and beard. Extremely nutritious, and the kids love it.

    We pretend to be rabbits… me, Mr. 6 and Mr. 2 all munching whatever veggies we have. It works best when all of us do it at once. Also – if someone is reluctant to eat something, I put it on my fork and suggest we all eat it together – with a big “aaaahhh- UMMM” sound. Works every time.

    Dips are really popular with Mr. 2 – he will eat anything if he has thick yogurt to dip it in.

    Somehow we have managed to make Vietnamese Bun our favorite meal, which amazes me because it’s mostly salad. Bottom layer is salad with any and all veggies you want, including shredded carrots. Then layers of cooked rice noodles (which the kids gobble up), ground peanuts, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, baked chicken thighs (marinated in lime juice, garlic and fish sauce), and a spicy fish sauce that we don’t put on the kids’ plates. Sounds complicated but it comes together really easily, and Mr. 6 always yells “YES!!!” whenever I say I’m making it.

    One more point: the biggest single way we have gotten our kids into veggies is to garden with them. There’s nothing better than working in the garden with the kids – they love to help water and weed, and they get a full serving of veggies while they are out there. Mr. 2 will stand next to the tomatoes and eat them until we pull him away kicking and screaming.