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Edible art projects for children

Most of us have survived several seasons of holiday cookie decorating and have come to enjoy the frosting exercise -- once a year. But Washington, D.C. artist Andrew Krieger thinks the frosting on the cake is just the beginning of a delicious art form. Mr. Krieger helped set up several "edible art" exhibitions in Athens, Ga., and recently orchestrated a cookie coloring and consumption event for children at the National Museum of American Art here in the nation's capital.

When working with youngsters, Mr. Krieger advises, "You should keep things as simple as possible -- give them choices, but not too many choices." Mr. Krieger has seen enough hanging spaghetti mobiles, vegetable musical instruments ("that really work!") and elaborate cake- based sculptures to know choice when he sees it.

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But he suggests that children make edible art "emphasizing color or structure or composition," and that they be limited to one of the following groups of materials:

* Bread dough, painted with food coloring and baked.

* Fruit or vegetable compositions -- "I've seen some beautiful abstract pieces done with fruit and licorice."

* Cake or cookie decorations.

* Cooked pasta of different shapes and colors -- "try spinach and wheat noddles, knotted and hanging as a mobile."

* Gameboards made of different color breads, and game pieces carved out of lightly cooked vegetables.

* Liquids arranged in different clear containers.

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We recently challenged a group of seven hungry after-school snackers to create decorative salads that "look real good" -- not just taste real good," as one of the participants phrased it.

Using fruits, vegetables, nuts, olives, marshmallows, and an entire jar of maraschino cherries, the children created some highly imaginative works:

* A marshmallow on a green bean stick, "roasting" over a cheddar cheese fire.

* A face with shredded cheese hair, olive eyes, a cherry nose, a spiced apple mouth with a cherry tongue, and zucchini and yellow squash earrings.

* A horse outlined in green beans with a broccoli ear, a cheddar cheese neck, a marshmallow eye and raisin eyeball, and a cherry nose.

* A flower made of a pineapple slice filled with cherries, a celery stick "stem" and green bean "leaves."

Each child ate his or her way through two salads, broccoli and all, to the adults' amazement. Next time, perhaps we should put spinach and turnip slices out along with the cherries.