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Kids Play With Food? Is it Safe?

Posted in Food Safety on September 20, 2018

Jell-O recently came out with some kits that encourage kids to play with their food. Literally.  The company is now 121 years old and I would like to trust them as a parent that they have my child’s best intentions in mind.   But really guys, how safe is this? Do your kids play with food? Here’s what you need to know.

Jell-O Kits

The kits are called Jell-O Play and they are targeting children ages 4-12 which includes my household and many others. I remember my Mom making Jell-O Jigglers when I was a child.  But we were always told to just eat them and not play with our food. The new kits have the same cookie cutter style creations, but also have kits that make blocks and an edible pudding “mud” that has stickers which can also be eaten. While these kits are all under $5 and, yes, they do provide some entertainment, I still cringe just a little even thinking about my kids playing with their food.

Jell-O spokesperson Sergio Eleuterio says that these kits “stimulate kids to unleash their creativity” and also adds “eating becomes part of the play.” I totally get this when it comes to having picky eaters, but how safe is this?

Recent articles encourage parents to let their kids play with their food just as Jell-O has mentioned. In our home we incorporate helping in the kitchen to promote healthy and safe eating, but researchers suggest that letting kids play with their food also promotes them to eating it.

Some Studies

Studies are also showing that children who were allowed to explore their foods are more likely to eat them later in life as well. So does playing with food really reduce picky eating? All signs point to yes. Kids who have been allowed to touch and feel their fruits and veggies were more likely to choose them as snacks later in life as well. A win-win.

Times have sure changed from the days where we have been told “don’t play with your food” to now encouraging babies as young as 7 months old to use their hands to eat and to get really messy. Parents are being told to throw in the towel when it comes to keeping baby clean while exploring new foods because of sensory play while feeding themselves. Children also learn to self feed at a younger age.

Reading all of this information prompted me to do some research myself on food safety with little ones around. Obviously, we know to wash our hands and the other simple do’s and don’ts.  But is there more? It seems like there is.

Food Safety When Cooking for Children
  • Everything begins where you purchase foods. Add cold foods to your cart last so they are not exposed to less than ideal temperatures before even making it home.
  • Check expiration dates. I do this with everything because often I do find expired things in our stores and want to make sure I am not making a huge mistake by purchasing something that shouldn’t even come into our home in the first place.
  • Put meats in plastic bags when available in the store to make sure that there are no juices leaking that can contaminate other foods in your cart.
  • Keep all raw meats separate from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Check your eggs not only for cracks but expiration/best by dates before purchase.
  • In the kitchen be sure to cook or freeze raw meats within 2 days. Some will last 3-5 days including steaks and chops.
  • Use any opened deli meats and hot dogs within 3-5 days
  • Do not wash raw chicken.  Just cook it thoroughly.
  • As mentioned before ALWAYS wash your hands. This protects not only the chef but also those who are eating the meals, especially little ones who might decide that food play is a good idea.
  • Use separate cutting boards for meats and other things you may be cutting.
  • Wipe down counters when finished with food prep. This can be accomplished with hot soapy water or the commercial cleaner of your choice. Use paper towels instead of sponges to limit cross-contamination.
Ideas for Food Play

Many parents are allowing their kids to play with everything from whipped cream while learning to write their names in it with their fingers to the mentioned Jell-O kits. Fresh fruits including melons, vegetables and edible dough to make into fun shapes are just a few of the things we have seen mentioned online for sensory play as well as teaching children various aspects of learning.

Kids are exploring our world a lot faster these days than we ever thought about, and definitely more than prior generations. While this is scary from a food safety perspective, the idea of learning through food play does seem to appeal to a lot of people.

The Bottom Line

While growing up and being told to never play with my food (even the Jell-O Jigglers) at the end of the day I suppose it is okay to allow some fun food play that stimulates our youngest and allows our oldest to explore his food options in a fun and safe way.

With clean food handling and prep actions our boys are in good hands when choosing to play with their foods and my dreams of being the Pinterest mom of the year have been fulfilled because I always see photos and ideas of kids covered from head to toe in various concoctions that have been created to allow for more and more sensory stimulation.  While I still won’t let my kids get wild with a bag of flour, I think that within reason these types of food play are a great advantage to the real world where we are surrounded by things to touch and taste. Just remember to keep things as clean as possible.

Whether we choose to use healthy food options or delve into the Jell-O and whipped cream we will be making sure that we properly clean up everything, wash any surfaces properly including the high chair tray and all utensils and let the boys have a bunch of fun!

By:  Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)