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I Make My Kids Play With Their Food

Photograph by Getty Images

We are meant to enjoy food, right? "Well, not so fast," my kids say at almost every single meal I present to them. In fact, they enjoy very little of what I make.

One day they love meatballs, the next day they do not. Hummus? Only on Tuesdays. Peanut butter and jelly — if the bread is Italian and there is peanut butter on both sides. The only thing I can get them to unanimously agree on is steak (I’m a vegetarian, naturally) or cupcakes (sugar bomb). Making dinner lately has become like a death march: me walking to the table, a slaved-over meal in my hands, only to be shot down emphatically by the mini army of dissidents I call my sons.

It stinks, and the negative reinforcement has almost convinced me to give up meal making all together.

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But then I received a book that took the pressure off of me, encouraged my kids to be more involved with cooking their own meals, and made the process of eating fun again.

Funny Food: 365 Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts,” by Bill and Claire Wurtzel, had both of my kids engaged and laughing out loud at the imaginative, food-art photographs inside. They didn’t even know it was a cookbook. When I told them, that, yes, we too can make a bicyclist out of eggs and veggies, they were thrilled. And when I said they could eat each “sculpture” we made, I witnessed the excitement in their faces that I’d been hoping for all these laborious years of cooking meals that only I actually wanted to consume.

Authors Bill Wurtzel, an award-winning creative director and renowned jazz guitarist, and his wife Claire, an educator, are the brains behind “Funny Food.”

Riffing with oatmeal, eggs, apples and nuts, the adorable, hilarious and healthy plates inspire good eating habits by creating an interactive food experience for children.

For years, Bill had been preparing these artistic, calorie-friendly plates for his wife. But now his creations are for kids and those who beg, plead and bribe to feed them. In his world, carrots turn into airplanes, boiled eggs into jugglers and pears into guitar players. As gracefully as Picasso's ceramic plates found endless form, so do Wurtzel's portraits, which seem to grow out of almost anything: cheerios and bananas; lox and bagels; oatmeal, blueberries, and strawberries. Don't be surprised to discover a puppy in oatmeal, a fish in cereal or juggling clowns on pancakes. Sometimes you think he is a portrait artist, swearing you just saw Sigmund Freud emerging from a pear, or Shakespeare growing out of an apple. Sometimes the plates are just plain fanciful.

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For our family, we don’t always use the recipes and step-by-step instructions from “Funny Food.” But it does inspire us to be creative and silly with the kids. Sometimes what we make looks like a pretty cool portrait, sometimes the dish looks like plain old oatmeal with raisin eyes. The kids love it all the same. You know what? It reminds me that meals don’t have to be so darn serious all the time. Sometimes the napkin on your lap can be tucked into your shirt, and sliced ham can make for a pretty cool face, especially when it’s on your face.

"Your breakfasts don't have to look like they'll hang in the Louvre," Bill says. "It's the gesture that counts."

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