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Food Play! The Fun Way to Tackle Picky Eating

Nov 13, 2023

Back by popular demand, here is another instalment about the benefits of food play along with some fresh ideas! From princesses to Paw Patrol, dinosaurs and dump trucks...don't worry...this blog has your child covered.

Remember to have fun and keep the pressure low. Food play is not initially about eating the food, it's an opportunity for your child to interact with foods and engage all of their senses in a low pressure, play-based way. As your child becomes more comfortable during food play, they will be comfortable with "learning foods" on their plate during mealtimes and in time this can lead to eating new foods. Children learn through play and using their senses like looking and touching. Food play can help to reduce picky eating, lead to happier mealtimes, and foster a better relationship with food.

Who should do food play?

Anyone! But especially kids that are picky eaters or have sensory-based picky eating.

What type of food should I use?

Foods that you would like your child to learn to eat. For example, if you want your child to eat more fruits and veggies, then play with fruits and veggies! Use foods with fun shapes and colours!

Where should we do food play?

The kitchen floor on an old sheet/tablecloth, a kid-sized table, or a picnic table outside. I usually suggest playing with food away from the meal environment so your child doesn't feel any expectation to eat the foods.

When is it best to do food play?

Try food play between mealtimes. Anytime you might play with your child or do arts and crafts. Use food as your medium! Follow your child's lead - if they are playing with cars or dinosaurs, ask yourself "How can I add food to this scenario?"

Why do food play?

Food play can help to reduce picky eating, by allowing kids to become more comfortable with foods without any expectation to eat the food. Eating involves all your child’s senses. Kids learn through play! Food play provides your child with an opportunity to learn about the properties of foods through play (e.g., colour, shape, texture, smell).

How do I do food play?

Think like your child. What do they love to play with? Now connect food play to toys and activities that your child enjoys!

Here are some food play ideas based on your child's interests:

Food play for a child that likes to play with their little kitchen and pretend foods...

Instead of just playing with plastic/pretend foods, add some real foods to the mix! Give your child pieces of fruit and vegetables, meats, and breads to use during pretend play in their mini-kitchen! Touching and exploring foods during play can lead to tasting and eating. Let your child use a child-safe knife to chop and cut the foods. Ask your child if you can taste their delicious recipes.

Food play for a child that likes dinosaurs...

On a cookie sheet, make “mud” with chocolate pudding and Oreo baking crumbs. Use pieces of broccoli for trees and chunks of fruit for rocks and plants. Use toy dinosaurs to stomp through the scene. Or, try making a funny dinosaur picture using foods.

Food Play for a child that likes Paw Patrol...

Use a cookie sheet or the lid of a storage container, make a Paw Patrol obstacle course. Use slices of fruits and veggies to create slides, mini-trampolines, and climbing obstacles. Use Paw Patrol figurines to navigate the course and race to the finish line.

Food play for a child that likes animals....

Create a farm scene on the lid of storage container or a cookie sheet. Use chocolate pudding for mud, shredded veggies for grass, and broccoli and cauliflower for trees. Use corn and peas for animal food. Encourage your child to help feed the animals on the farm.

Food play for a child that likes cars, trucks, and trains....

If you have a train set, use the train cars to transport food around (e.g., fruits, nuts, berries, pasta). Pretend it’s a mission to make a special delivery. If your child likes diggers and dump trucks, use these vehicles to scoop and dump foods. If you're feeling extra creative and inspired, try making a train from fruits and vegetables!

Food play for a child that likes counting and sorting...

Count foods! Line up pieces of meat, fruits, or veggies. Have your child count the foods and announce the total. Sort foods! Put all the orange foods together (e.g., carrots, orange pepper, Ritz crackers) and all of the round foods together (e.g., cheerios, grapes, cucumbers).

Food play for a child that likes painting and arts and crafts...

Paint with colourful pudding, yogurt, or purees. Use a paintbrush or fingers. Add crumbs or seeds for “sparkles”. Use food to make funny faces on plates or an underwater or outer space scene.

Food play for a child that likes dolls, bears, and stuffed animals...

Set-up a picnic. The dolls and bears can sit in a circle and your child can be in charge of giving each one a plate, cup, spoon, and napkin. Next your child has the job of serving food to each friend at the picnic. Try to include other kids and have fun!

Food play for a child that likes building, stacking, and blocks...

Stack cucumbers, cheese, crackers and knock them down! Kabooooommm!!!

Food play for a child that likes songs and books...

Sing any songs about food! (Wiggles “Fruit Salad yummy…yummy!”). There are many wonderful books about food including pictures and stories about learning about new foods. Look for books where you can scratch and smell the foods.

Food play for a child that likes helping....

Your child can help wash fruits and veggies in the kitchen sink. Kids can help cut soft foods using a child-safe knife. Kids can have the job of bringing foods to the table and serving foods to others during family meals.

Food play for a child that likes guessing games...

Encourage your child to close their eyes and touch a food inside a paper bag or container and guess what it is based on how it feels. If they are eventually ready to take a bite, then they can guess if it will “crunch” or “squish” in their mouth.

Food play for a child that likes princes, princesses, and magic...

Make magic wands with fruit! Use crumbs or sprinkles as magic dust.

Some children have difficulty participating in food play, because they are too overwhelmed with the sight, touch, or smell of foods. Here are some ideas for kids that are on sensory overload and need some smaller steps to engage in food play:

Food play for a child that is not yet able to look at foods...

Start with foods visible, but at a distance (e.g., across the table). Engage in food play yourself or with a sibling. Do not pressure your child to participate, just model that you are having fun. As your child becomes more comfortable being around the food, gradually move the food play activity a little closer.

Food play for a child that is not yet able to touch foods...

Try putting colourful foods inside clear plastic bags that your child can touch without getting their hands dirty. Or, put pieces of foods in clear plastic containers. You can stack them to make a tower and knock it down or shake the containers to make a noise and talk about what the foods looks and sounds like. Some kids like having a "tool kit" to touch foods with until they become more comfortable touching with their hands.


Food play for a child that is overwhelmed by food smells...

Try smelling from far away. You can load the food on a fork or toothpick and your child can smell the food while holding their arm out at arms’ length. Over time they can gradually move the food closer to their nose. Let you child choose a scented candle that they like the smell of. Use the candle while cooking or during mealtimes to mask the food smells for your child. You can encourage your child to start by smelling whole foods versus cut-up pieces.

Thanks for playing! For more food play ideas visit my previous blogs:

Seriously? Play with your food? Yes! Absolutely! Play with your food! 

25 Sensory Play Ideas to Help with Picky Eating



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