Cute Food May Work on Some Picky Eaters but It Doesn't Impress My Kid

cute plate of food
iStock.com/Azurita

We've all seen the pictures. Carrots and tomatoes carved to look like flowers; apple slices transformed into cars, with little grape wheels and a peanut butter road. It would appear that the parents of Pinterest have an unending source of artistic inspiration (and talent, and time) when it comes to arranging their children's food into pleasing scenes.

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I'd always dismissed these creations as time-consuming and unrealistic, but, like so many other moms, I sometimes worry that I'm just not doing enough; that, on top of being housed, clothed, fed, and loved, my kids deserve a Pinterest-worthy upbringing, right?

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And so one warm day in April, I found myself preparing the simplest of cutesy edible art: ants on a log. These were around when I was a kid, so I figured what the heck. If Grandma could handle these, so can I.

Here's how it went: I begin by washing the celery, which has got to be the filthiest of vegetables -- absolutely covered in grime. I rip each stalk off, grab the scrubby, and go to town. Then I take a fresh tea towel and carefully wipe each piece completely dry, gazing out the window. I can see my preschool-age son out there playing. "He's going to love this," I tell myself. "You are such a cool mom."

Next up -- peanut butter. Why is peanut butter so difficult? Every single time I go to use it, the oil has migrated to the top, where it shimmers like a shiny sea of obstinance, the nut paste a hardened, grainy mass below. So I grab a spoon and get to work mixing, the oil splashing out onto my hand, the counter, the floor.

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Ten minutes later, nut butter mixed and a fine sheen of sweat on my brow, I begin to carefully fill each celery stalk. The tiny ridges have managed to hold on to a bit of water, so getting the peanut butter to stick isn't easy, but eventually I get there. I have three stalks filled, I've sliced them into nine log-size pieces, and I'm only partially coated in peanut butter. I wash my hands for the seventeenth time since starting this project, noticing how delightfully scratchy they're becoming from all this careful hygiene.

And then -- the fun part. I grab my bag of raisins.

Of course, this is when the baby wakes up. So I run upstairs, gently collect him (he doesn't like to rush when he's just woken up), change his wet diaper, check back in on the toddler still playing outside, then balance the baby on one hip, dodging his efforts to steal raisins as I place them lovingly on each "log."

There! It's finished! Nothing left but to plate these works of art and deliver them to my son in the backyard. When I approach, he glances up from his work of finding worms under rocks and briefly acknowledges me, nodding as one does to a faithful servant. "Okay, mama." Very well, then. I set the plate on a nearby stump and consider myself dismissed.

Sighing with satisfaction and fatigue (my day began at 4:30 a.m.), I sink into a chair on the porch and begin to feed the baby. Thank goodness he's nursing, and I feel no need to rearrange my breast into something more eye-catching or appetizing. He seems content with it as is.

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Baby fed, I lift him upright and he burps a tablespoon of breast milk back onto my chest, where it drips down my shirt and into my lap.

Wardrobe change!

Five minutes later, we head down into the yard to see how his older brother is doing. He's hard at work once again, digging rocks from the dirt. I glance at his plate and see a pile of celery sticks, each one licked perfectly clean, glistening in the sun. I guess ants on a log wasn't a hit -- and it certainly didn't motivate him to eat the veggies.

That night while prepping dinner, I return to my usual approach. I quickly rinse off a red pepper and a cucumber, then cut them while still wet, peel and all, and leave them in a pile on the cutting board. The entire thing takes less than two minutes and, as expected, my son catches the scent and joins me in the kitchen as I make the rest of dinner.

He happily shoves veggies in his mouth while pulling every piece of Tupperware from the cupboard onto the floor, creating a pattern that seems designed to trip me as I dash around the room finishing dinner. After all, he's the real artist in the family, and I'm okay with that.

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