I know, I know. Adults always told you not to play with your food, but hey, this is craft time. What's great about playing with kids is that we adults have an excuse to do the fun things kids get to do. Here are some simple ideas.
Take out the fruits and vegetables from the fridge and look at them in a new way. Examine them from the top, the bottom, and sideways. What do they suggest? It's kind of like finding animals in the clouds. Add other vegetables, stems, dried beans, and nuts and create eyes, ears, legs, and antennae. Affix with toothpicks when necessary. For more ideas, pick up a copy of Play With Your Food by Joost Elffers.
Another fun food activity is learning to make garnishes. There are special tools for some of the more advanced techniques, but many garnishes can be made with tools you already have. Learn how to make radish roses, cucumber flowers, pimento stars, and anything else you can imagine.
Here are some other fun food garnish ideas:
"Frost" fruits by brushing with slightly beaten egg white, dipping in finely granulated sugar, and letting dry on a wire rack. (This works great with bunches of grapes.)
Make apple rings and add cherry or grape centers. Peel an apple and remove the center with a corer. Slice the apple crosswise into rings about 1/2-inch thick. Dip the rings in lemon juice to prevent browning.
Make carrot curls by resting the carrot on end on a cutting board and running a vegetable parer away from you along its length.
Cut a watermelon in half and let your child scoop out the fruit with an ice cream scoop or melon-baller. Let him make balls with other melons like cantaloupe and honeydew. Fill watermelon halves with different-colored melon balls and garnish with coconut.
Another fascinating cooking craft is the making of gingerbread houses. This can become a serious hobby all in itself. A traditional Christmas craft, there's no reason why you can't go into the construction business any time. How about a Valentine's Day cottage, decorated with heart candies? Or a "haunted" Halloween gingerbread house? Whatever style you choose, your gingerbread structures will improve with practice and experience, so any opportunity to increase your skills will mean even better results when Santa comes to call. Start with a basic recipe especially formulated for making houses. On the following page is a good one that makes about nine cups of dough.