March 20, 2014

The Magic of Toothpicks

 Bowls of Fruit

My four-year-old daughter, Chloe, had three friends over for a play date last week, and naturally, the scene was wild. Every single toy she owned was on the floor. Every musical instrument was in use - two harmonicas, wooden castanets, a drum, and an electronic keyboard playing a mind-numbing Bossa Nova beat on repeat. The girls were dressed in princess costumes and had used Silly Putty to attach beaded necklaces to the coffee table to decorate for their "concert." A toy fire engine's siren blared occasionally, too. It was (fun) bedlam.

Chloe said she was hungry, so I went into the kitchen to scrounge around for snacks for the four kids. It was the end of the week, and the cupboard was getting bare, so I cut what fruit we had left into bite-sized cubes and put them on a plate with a little cup of toothpicks in the middle. I put the fruit plate onto the coffee table with a regal flourish.

"Your fruit is served," I said.

It was like instant magic. Silence fell immediately (well, after I said, "Can someone please shut off that keyboard?"). The kids literally dropped what they were doing, swarmed the coffee table, and huddled around the plate, delightedly spearing the pieces of fruit with their toothpicks. The plate was empty within minutes.

The power of toothpicks to get kids to eat is amazing. When toothpicks are involved, foods that kids eat all the time - or usually turn up their nose at - suddenly become fun and fancy. Any time a mom friend is faced with a picky eater, I suggest she try the toothpick solution. I even had one mom tell me that her son came home from school asking to eat his snack with a toothpick after he saw Chloe eating her strawberries with one.

Toothpicks are great for kids in so many ways. They're super; larger plastic ones can actually be washed and re-used; they create less garbage than plastic forks and spoons (and the wooden ones are compostable!); and using them to spear food can help little ones work on their fine motor skills.

Plus, so many foods can get the toothpick treatment, from fruits and veggies, to cubed ham or chicken, pieces of hard-cooked egg, cheeses, olives, meatballs, tortellini, you name it.

Of course, toothpicks are sharp and should only be given to kids when they're under close supervision. Use the same rules that you'd apply when your kids use forks, knives, or scissors.

After the fruit was gone, the kids went back to their cacophony, and I brought the empty plate back into the kitchen with the happy realization that everything tastes better - and is more fun - on a toothpick.