Is it Lunch, or Is It a Game?

I am made slightly uneasy by the trend toward cute food.

This is difficult to admit, because I don't want to squelch others' fun. But I'm uncomfortable with the message that sandwiches are tastier if they're cut into a heart shape, or that crackers need to be adorable.

Recently, Pepperidge Farm introduced fish-shaped bread, which sells at my local store for $4.65 per pound, as opposed to $2.66/lb for the same brand's sliced bread. The fish bread promises a "deliciously soft texture and fun, crust free shape!" The cynical girl in me hears: the inmates are running the asylum. 

But my kids are 6 and 8 already, and they're both tremendously flexible eaters. So when my kindergartener asked if he could make the "tic tac toe" sandwich he found in his "cookbook" I said yes. 

A couple of years ago I mentioned to another mother that a certain type of shaped cracker had a nice, clean ingredients list. But she said "I don't buy shaped food." It was the first time I ever heard another mom share my grinchy hesitation. And while I adore food blogs, the proliferation of top shelf food styling and photography can feed our insecurities. A midday gander at Pinterest suggests every cupcake should resemble the face of a perfectly cheerful monkey, and every bowl of oatmeal should sport a raisin and raspberry smile.

If there's a gene which makes people acknowledge the appeal of cute food, I may be missing it. But--hang on--I had it too as a child. I remember begging my mother to let me make "candle salad," wherein half a banana stood on its cut surface, projecting from a canned pineapple ring. There may have been a "flame" made from a maraschino cherry and cool whip. As gross as that sounds, I once felt about it the way I now feel about fresh guacamole. (Come to mama!)

My son enjoyed the work of cutting ham and cheese into thin strips with a real knife, and didn't make a stink when they kept breaking. The cheesy Xs had an advantage on the diagonal of this sandwich, but then they melted under the broiler. Even that didn't ruin his fun. 

And then? He ate the whole thing.