The secret to learning to eat more foods is…. PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD!!

Before our mess-conscious moms and dads click away in a hurry: 

1) We get it! We like clean houses, clothes, and hands too! 

2) Messy play does not have to happen at every meal. Twice a week? Once a month? Start where you are!

3) We can always teach manners for different social settings alongside this, or after they’re eating more foods! 

We invite you to stick with us, pun intended, as we talk about how this may support your kiddo!

Many of us grew up hearing our parents tell us to stop playing with our food. However, from our experience, playing with food is so powerful in supporting food exploration and eating. 

The first interaction children have with a food is touch. They learn about the qualities of the food through their hands and even face. Is it soft? Crunchy? Sticky? Cold? Warm? Wet? Dry? 

Children get so much information through touching, manipulating, smushing, and smearing food prior to eating it. (If even hearing that sentence has made you want to wash your hands, take a deep breath with us 🙂 ). 

In our sessions, we create opportunities for food play to increase comfort and willingness to interact with new or non-preferred food. Depending on your child’s age and play level, you can use many different play schemes to increase their engagement in the mealtime and with the foods. 

Here we will list some food play ideas, moving from those geared towards smaller kiddos, to ideas more appropriate for older children. We recommend modeling with play, giving your child the control over their interaction, and avoiding putting their hands in any non-preferred texture. This absolutely does not have to be a daily activity–whatever is most do-able for your family works!

  1. Sensory Bin
    • Fill a bin or bowl with a less-preferred food texture and add some preferred toys. For example, you can easily add some fun color to cooked pasta using food coloring. Then with toys you could play hide and seek, or “night night”/ “good morning”. 
  2. Drawing
    • Smear pudding, whipped cream, or yogurt on a cookie sheet and encourage your child to draw lines or shapes. 
  3. “Achoo!”
    • This is an all time favorite for those who are ready to bring the item to their nose area. As an adult, you can model bringing the food to the space right under your nose and let it fall as you say “Ahh Ahh Chooooo!” See if your child will imitate. We recommend letting your child be in charge of any food going near their face, and resisting the urge to put the food their for them. This makes them feel safer and more in control. 
  4. Food stamps
    • Use a small piece of non preferred food to dip into a preferred substance (yogurt, chocolate sauce, peanut butter, etc). Then make dots or lines on a plate or place mat. Children will become more accustomed to touching the food and interacting with it directly. 
  5. “Swimming”
    • Taking a food “swimming” in something like applesauce or yogurt can be a fun game for those who are able to engage in pretend play.
  6. Face Mats
    • Draw or print out a simple head shape like these, then laminate or place in a file folder. Your child can use different foods as the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and hair. This is a fun way to get creative with food and talk about the qualities of the food. “Oh you chose the round and blue blueberries for the eyes. Good idea!”
  7. Food Puzzle
    1. For those who are interested in matching shapes or puzzles, this is a really simple and fun activity. Simply provide a few pieces of non-preferred, novel, and/or preferred foods. Then outline them on a piece of paper to make a “puzzle” like this. Give your child the food pieces and explain what to do, possibly modeling with one piece. 

We hope this brings you some inspiration about how you might be able to encourage food play with your child!  

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