I teach a STEM enrichment class for children age 2.5 – 7, called Family Inventors’ Lab. We’re a cooperative program, which relies on parent volunteers in the classroom. Once each quarter, a parent is responsible for bringing and serving snacks for the whole class.
As a working parent of a small child, I understand life is busy, so I always say it’s totally fine if they just bring in anything they happen to have in the cabinet. But… if they WANT to tie into the theme of the week, they can. If they WANT to lead a “cooking” activity, they can. This post is my collection of ideas to match each of the themes this year. These are also all easy ideas for snacks to go with any science-themed birthday party.
Engineering and Simple Machines
What is an Inventor? Provide some kind of “invented food.” For example, instead of fresh blueberries, a natural whole food, provide freeze-dried blueberries – where a scientific process has changed and prolonged the edible life of the blueberries. Or microwave popcorn – a natural whole grain which has other ingredients added to it, and then a modern technology is used to cook it.
- Tall Structures. Build a tower of food, also known as a fruit kebab: bring bamboo skewers, and fruit, cut into cubes… bananas, melon, blueberries (whole), strawberries, pineapple… Kids build their tower on a skewer, then eat it.
- Engineering: Tunnels and bridges. Build structures with food: provide toothpicks and cheese cubes or grapes or cubes of French bread or melon balls or marshmallows, let children build their structures, then dismantle and eat.
- Rube Goldbergs & Contraptions. Use a kitchen gadget to prepare something: like an apple slicer, a hard-boiled egg slicer, an ice cream scoop with the lever that releases the ice cream, a veggie spiralizer, a pasta maker, a cheese grater, etc.
- Pulley Red licorice ropes to tie onto a snack and haul the snack up.
- Inclined plane Graham crackers and grapes (they can roll the grape down the cracker ramp).
- Wedge & Lever. Make your own fruit salad. The littlest kids can slice bananas or watermelon with table knives or plastic knives (wedges). Middle-size kids can use scissors (levers) to snip marshmallows (or grapes). Older kids cut apples, or oranges with a sharper knife. You could also use a melon baller (a wedge).
- Screws. Refrigerated make-your-own crescent rolls – you’re rolling an inclined plane up to make a screw shape. Plus apples to use with the Apple Peeler and Slicer that we have in the classroom.
- Wheel and Axle: Rotelli or ruote (wheel shaped pasta) – you can cook before class and warm up one serving whenever needed. Or cars…
If I Built a Car. Make a mini-car. All of these have an idea for a car body and for the wheels: Cheese sticks and mini bagels, cheese stick and pepperoni slices, apples slices and grapes, cut in half. A breadstick and cucumber slices. Banana and oreos.
If I Built a House. Simplified (and healthier) gingerbread houses: graham crackers for walls, cream cheese or sunflower seed butter to be the “cement” to stick walls together. and dried fruits for decorations.
Electricity. Something that you need electricity to prepare. 🙂 For example, fruit smoothie in a blender: have them practice mashing up a little food by hand to see what hard work that is, and then put food in the blender and whir it quickly.
Wind and Flight. Some kind of “puffs” (Pirate booty, puffed Cheetos, puffed cereal) and straws. They can use a straw to blow around ONE puff while they eat the rest.
- States of Matter. Make your own ice cream. Recipe here: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2016/1/05/states-of-matter/ Add ice cream topping that’s liquid when you pour it and then hardens when it hits the ice cream. Or make popcorn. (When you cook it, the liquid in the kernel turns into a gas, which expands, and causes the “explosion” which turns the kernel into popped corn.)
- Mixtures, solutions. Pancakes or a birthday cake to go with the books recommended in the theme. Kool-Aid, or some powdered drink (solid) that they mix with water (liquid) and it dissolves/mixes.
- Reactions. Check out the theme post for a Lemon Fizz recipe. Make home-made mayonnaise – emulsifying is a chemical reaction. (learn the science here)
Physics / Weather
- Light and Shadow Oreos? (And milk to dip them in.) Or something with distinctive silhouettes (like animal crackers) that they could shine a bright flashlight at and see its shadow on the table before eating it.
- Rainbows. Colorful food: Could do rainbow goldfish, or graham crackers with rainbow chip frosting, or could do fruit skewers where they’d put colorful fruit on a bamboo skewer in rainbow order (red watermelon, orange orange, yellow pineapple, green kiwi or honeydew, blueberries, purple plum or blackberries.)
- Magnets. Cereal with milk. Must be iron-fortified cereal if you also want to try this experiment… I haven’t tested it, but it sounds cool:
Earth Science / Astronomy
- Geology: Earth & Earthquakes. We’ll be talking about the layers of the earth, so a yogurt parfait where kids layer together yogurt, fruit and granola, or a mud cup where they layer chocolate pudding, bananas, crumbled graham crackers (or oreos), and a gummy worm.
- Dinosaurs. There are dinosaur shaped cheese puffs, chicken nuggets, and more. Or there’s Dinosaur Egg oatmeal.
- Planets & Astronauts. Trader Joe’s sells rocket shaped cheddar crackers. Horizon makes a graham cracker that’s cows jumping over moons. There’s astronaut ice cream. Or you could do some kind of food in a tube or a packet like the astronauts eat. (like an applesauce packet) You could also make something that looks like a planet.. like Jupiter pizzas: English muffins spread with tomato sauce and cheese and heated in toaster oven. Or bagel and cream cheese moons.
- Stars & Constellations. Trader Joe’s has star shaped yogurt covered cookies. Campbell’s makes chicken and stars soup. Or you could bring star shaped cookie cutters and slices of American cheese to cut.
5 Senses: Several ideas: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2016/1/05/taste-and-smell/
Categorizing Animals: Animal crackers. Encourage them to sort them, count how many they have of each kind, describe them, etc.
Habitats. Make blue jello with Swedish fish floating in it? Bring animal crackers, give kids a paper plate labelled with place they might find the animals (desert for camel, jungle for monkey, etc.) When they get their crackers, they first sort them into where they belong, then eat them. Or get cheddar bunnies and goldfish to mix together, and kids have to sort into which lives in water, and which lives on land.
Adaptations to Environment. We do an activity called Bird Beak Adaptations. Tie into that by providing some snack with a utensil that makes it harder to eat… Can they eat spaghetti noodles with chopsticks? How about raisins? Or diced canned peaches? Or can they eat yogurt with a fork? Or drink yogurt with a straw? Or some similar challenge… Let them use tongs (like bird beaks) to serve the food.
Eggs. Hard-boiled eggs, prepped in advance. Or cook eggs together so they see the process of breaking the shell, scrambling, cooking, etc. If they’re not fans of eggs, then make a cookie recipe or something else that incorporates eggs.
Seeds, Flowers and Plants. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peas, edamame / soybeans. Or fruit with obvious seeds (cherries, seeded watermelon, peach, etc.). American cheese slices, and flower shaped cookie cutters. Something flavored with lavender or rosewater (though many kids don’t like these flavors).
Bugs. You could do a dirt cup (chocolate pudding, crushed oreos, and gummy worms) or bugs on a log (use pretzels or celery as the log, spread on cream cheese or sunflower butter, then sprinkle on chocolate chips or raisins or dried cranberries to be the bugs.) Or do the butterfly life cycle in pasta… orzo or acine di pepe for the egg, rotini or penne for the caterpillar, conchiglie (shell pasta) for the chrysalis, and bowtie for the butterfly. You could cook these all together in advance, then heat up portions as kids want them. (you’ll need to point out how they represent butterfly life cycle, otherwise kids won’t make the connection.)
Birds & Flight. There are recipes for “bird’s nests” made with chow mein noodles and butterscotch chips. Could make those, or use some other combination of items for bird’s nests: maybe pretzel sticks and sunflower seed butter?
Sink & Float / Under the Sea. Goldfish crackers! Or take bagel (or rice cake), spread on blue cream cheese (take whipped cream cheese and mix in a little blue gel food coloring), and put goldfish crackers in the “fish bowl.” Make your own goldfish crackers (I have a fish shaped cookie cutter. Here’s one recipe for the crackers…)
Robots & Machines. A bowl of snack mix… pretzel rods, cheerios, and Chex with a sign saying “nuts and bolts” and string cheese or licorice ropes with a sign saying “wires” and maybe some candy shapes for “buttons”.
Could use for any theme:
For almost any theme, you could find cookie cutters that relate to the theme, and you could use them to make sugar cookies or biscuits or other recipes, or you could use them to cut American cheese slices, or bread, or many other things.
Notes for students in my Family Inventors Lab class:
If you don’t want to bring the theme related snack, then any of the following are always winning combinations: apples and cheese; graham crackers and bananas, pita and hummus, goldfish crackers and grapes, and so on. We do have a nut free, peanut-free policy in our classrooms.
Tips for snack quantities: Snack is an optional activity in class, so not all kids will eat it. And of those who do, they often don’t eat much. So, when you’re planning quantities, if a box of something says it has “8 servings” in it, that’s plenty for 12 – 15 kids. Also, bring something you like to eat, because we’ll ask you to take home the leftovers. 🙂
Always bring two items (two kinds of food). If you only bring one item and a hungry child either doesn’t like that food or is not able to eat it due to allergies, then we have a hungry and unhappy child in class! Providing two types of food means that’s less likely to occur. So, for example, if you’re bringing cheese crackers, you could bring fruit to go with them. Or if you’re bringing cookies, maybe also provide yogurt tubes.
Facilities and Supplies at Classrooms:
At CDL, we have for serving: disposable cups for water, and disposable plates (snack boats). We have spoons and forks. For preparing: we have mixing bowls, measuring cups, typical kitchen utensils, a microwave and a toaster oven. If you need something specific, ask if we have it, or just check yourself the week before.
At Robinswood, for serving, we have: re-useable cups, plates, and silverware. (Part of the snack parent’s job is to unload and reload the dishwasher.) For preparing, we have mixing bowls, measuring cups, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, a microwave, stove, and oven. Again, if you need something specific, ask us.