There's playing with your food to distract yourself, and others, likely your parents when you were little, from whatever it is on the plate that you don't want to eat but that you inevitably have to sample to not be rude, to save face, or to placate mom and dad.
You cut. You group. You push morsels from one side to the other.
There's playing with your food, but not meaning to, at least not at first, like the little boy chasing a potato around his plate in a funny scene from My Life as a Dog, a movie by Lasse Hallstrom. The boy was earnest in his foiled attempts to stab the round, smooth spud.
Playing with your food can be joyful, too, especially if you're strapped into a high chair with a bowl of spaghetti and sweet pasta sauce. The bowl makes a great cap when the noodles have been flung about and your chubby cheeks glisten red.
Then there's Manami Sasaki, a designer and artist. She's making playing with your food an art form these days to stave off the boredom of confinement. With plain toast as canvas she's created three-dimensional paintings from food and edible decoration. My favorite of the fourteen creations posted on her Instagram feed is a zen garden, made with sour cream raked into lines, macadamia nuts and walnuts for rocks, and matcha powder to represent moss. A zen garden so takes advantage of the medium -a flat piece of rectangular bread - and nicely showcases the featured food because of all the white space for contemplation surrounding it. I might not eat nuts with sour cream and bread that way but it got me thinking...
Planning, preparing, serving, and eating food can be even more engaging with a little (or a lot of) imagination. Think of the blank canvases in your meal repertoire beyond round plate or bowl. Mountains (or valleys) of pasta or rice. The playing field of a casserole. A sea of stew. Tangled jungles of salad. A whole new world of recipes and recipe adaptations.
The zen garden toast got me wanting to brainstorm food compositions that will get kids to eat what you want them to eat. Edible sculptures for yourself that would be cool to conceive, or food paintings that would be gratifying to serve.