Constructive Eating®
Encouraging Children to Play With Their Food

What happens when a mom and dad of three young children spend a sleepless night trying to figure out how to get their picky and fidgety youngest toddler to sit still and eat his meals? They dream up a novel product and a business overnight.

In 2005, Carter and Jackie Malcolm were the parents of three young children. Their older son loved all things construction; tractors, loaders, dump trucks. What he didn´t like was sitting still and eating. One evening, as they tried to get some much-deserved sleep, they discussed the problem. What could they do to keep their son in his seat and focused on his plate? They wondered if their son´s love for construction equipment would do the trick. As Carter is an engineer by trade, and Jackie a speech pathologist, they put their heads together and designed their own utensils shaped like their son´s favorite construction vehicles and a plate with individual compartments for food and spots that the utensils fit into snugly. It was a hit with their son; he sat through meals, and loved using the special set of utensils to load and eat veggies, fruits, and all the other nutritious foods a young, growing body needs. Carter and Jackie realized the potential for this wonderful product for other families, even schools. They made more sets, and let family and friends use them. The feedback was amazing. They knew they had a business endeavor on their hands, and Constructive Eating was born.

What could they do to keep their son in his seat and focused on his plate? They wondered if their son´s love for construction equipment would do the trick.

Carter and Jackie took their first sets of the Constructive Eating line to local toy stores, gourmet food stores, and even hardware stores, where their products were snatched up immediately. They knew they needed to add another line; what would be a bigger hit than a line of fairy-themed plates, utensil and plush toys? As suspected, their fairy line was soon "flying off" the shelves, pun intended. Carter and Jackie added lunch totes for both the construction line and the fairy line, that unzip to become an interactive placemat for meals on the go, then zip up again for super-easy cleaning up.

The overwhelming interest in their products meant that Carter and Jackie spent many long evenings filling orders out of their basement after a full days´ work and raising their young family. Soon, they were at the point where they needed help just to keep up with the orders they were receiving. They asked a neighbor and family friend who was a high school student if she would want to help them, which she did. Soon, they needed more help, and recruited more local high-schoolers to help. Today, Constructive Eating operates out of its own facility and employs four people full-time and 20 people part-time. They continue to welcome local high-school students and some employees when they return home for college breaks. The manufacturing line and order fulfillment areas are brimming with talk about school, going to college, and the challenges that they will conquer after graduation.

While the crew at Constructive Eating work hard, they definitely have fun. Carter and Jackie know that the high school years are a crucially important and formative time in every young adult´s future, and that soon their high school staff will be out in the real world, making a living. They see their time together as an opportunity to encourage each young adult´s entrepreneurial growth, giving them books and articles to read and discuss about personal growth and business development that mirrors the work they are doing at Constructive Eating. They talk with their younger staff members about what´s happening at school, sports, and in all their other endeavors. For Jackie and Carter, it is very important that each member of the team feels valued, and are told that their contributions to Constructive Eating are vital to the success of the business.

(left to right: Claire Schorin, Luna Archey, Nicole Derderian, Carter Malcolm, Alex Bradburn.)

Another way that Constructive Eating has ties to their local community is through their support of local small businesses. Based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Constructive Eating proudly places their products in local storefronts of all types, supporting as many family or small-business retailers as possible in their own home town. They are proud that their products are Made in the U.S.A, that their materials are locally sourced whenever possible (again, supporting the local Michigan economy is important at Constructive Eating), and that their products are FUNctional (FUN + functional). Being a family business is a big deal to Constructive Eating as well, and the entire staff are seen as part of that family.

They have been a huge part of helping children of all developmental levels to have fun at meal time, and any parent of a young child will tell you that is often no small feat.

The most motivating part of being on the Constructive Eating team is that the products they make help children of all kinds. Their cute and engaging utensils and matching plates encourage children to focus on their meal. Children can easily grasp their utensils and feed themselves independently. Constructive Eating sets are often ordered directly by schools for special needs classes who use them not only at meal time, but for play. They have been a huge part of helping children of all developmental levels to have fun at meal time, and any parent of a young child will tell you that is often no small feat.

The Constructive Eating team have received many awards through the years, but two that they are particularly proud of are The Washtenaw Indie "Hidden Gem" Award and the 2011 "Companies to Watch" award given by the Governor of Michigan. These awards recognize organizations in the Michigan community that strive to do business in a sustainable way while giving back to the community. Constructive Eating is very proud of these recognitions. But mostly, they are proud that the products they make help so many children all over the world.

Of course, all products are FDA-Approved, and lead and paint free. Parents (and grandparents) can feel good about supporting a business made in America that also supports locally-sourced Michigan products, and at the same time, know their children will have a blast loading (and eating) their peas, pasta, fruits, and all sorts of other healthy and nutritious foods using their own special utensils, plate, and tote. Kids love to play, and they also love to feel independent. What an ingenious idea to turn table time into creative and fun play time!

"And if you´re a parent who identifies with Carter and Jackie´s struggles, you´re in luck. Constructive Eating has been kind enough to construct a special offer to readers of this post. Click below to get the offer!"

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