20 Ideas for Fun Food Play, that Requires NO Preparation at All!
“Don’t play with your food” is out! “Having fun with your food” is in!
Many years of research have shown us that children learn to eat the same way they learn any other new skill; by playing and having fun. This is not just relevant to babies. Toddlers, preschoolers, and older children who are still learning to eat a variety of foods benefit from being encouraged to have fun and play with their food.
When you encourage your child to have fun with food, you provide them with valuable opportunities to learn about the properties of the food, well before they feel ready to put it in their mouth. Eating requires the use of every single one of our senses. Children learn a lot about food by having fun looking at it, smelling it, listening to it, touching it, and tasting it.
Following your child’s lead can often result in a lot of fun with food, but sometimes children need a little more encouragement to explore food they are still learning about (not yet eating). However, keep in mind, that it’s only fun to play with food when there is no pressure. Focus on showing your child how you have fun with food, rather than telling your child what to do.
Here are 20 fun food ideas that encourage children to look at, interact with, touch, and taste food they might otherwise ignore.
Problem: Your child won’t look at or go near the food
1. Playing a memory game: Ask your child to look at your plate and then close their eyes. Or cover all the food in the middle of the table and see if you can name all the foods that are there. Encourage your child to take a peek and see if you have forgotten any.
2. Play detective: Remove or eat one food off your plate and ask your child to identify what is missing.
3. Make shapes/letters/numbers with your food and encourage your child to guess what it is.
4. Guess the food: Describe the food by colour, size, and texture and ask your child to pick what food item you are describing.
5. Guess the number: How many leaves does your brussel sprout have? How many peas are on your plate? How many apple pieces are in your fruit salad? How many pieces do you think you can cut your green bean into?
Problem: Your child will look at a particular food but not interact with it e.g. Your child will have peas on their plate but ignore them.
6. Restaurants: Use anything in your cooking draw that is a little out of the ordinary such as tongs, salad servers, extra big spoons/ little spoons, measuring cups, and soup ladles, and encourage your child to take turns serving food either onto their plate or onto someone else’s plate. Make it a game to have a waiter serving food to the table each mealtime.
7. Science experiments: See which foods are the easiest to squash with your fork. Guess which ones can be squashed and which ones can’t be. Guess which foods will mash and which will crumble.
8. Circus Balancing Act: See how many food pieces (such as peas/corn kernels/carrots) you can balance on your spoon or fork.
9. Mister Maker: Use a fork to make a pattern or picture in your food.
Problem: My child won’t touch the food.
10. Food Swords: Serve food on skewers and pair preferred food with non-preferred food. Show your child how to pull off the non-preferred food.
11. Patterns: Encourage kids to make different patterns of food by threading the food onto skewers.
12. Letter Challenge: Guess which letter/number everyone makes with their food.
13. Food sorter: Sort the foods from softest to hardest using a squeeze test between your thumb and finger.
14. Picture Time: Create pictures out of food.
15. Tumbling Tower: See how high you can stack your pieces of food before they fall down.
16. Magic powers: Identify a magical food each mealtime and use it like a magic wand. E.g. Wave your ‘wand’ and people freeze for 5 seconds or wave your ‘wand’ to make people sing.
Problem: My child won't taste food
17. Funny faces: Make funny faces by placing food in your mouth. For example, make fangs out of beans or Dracula teeth out of pieces of carrots.
18. Makeup: Apply ‘lipstick’ (soft or runny food) to your lips.
19. Dinosaur crunch: Encourage your child to hear how loud can crunch the food. Work out which is food is the loudest on your plate. Compete to see who can crunch the loudest!
20. Mythbusters: Do an experiment to see which foods are easy to bite and which ones are harder to bite. Food can then be politely spat into a bowl or napkin.
Extra tip: Put a cloth on the back of your child’s chair or beside their plate. Encourage your child to wipe their hands on the cloth, if they don’t like having food on their hands. Let your child know it is okay to spit food into the cloth, or napkin, or plate if they are not ready to eat something they have put in their mouth.
Playing with non-preferred food is such an important part of the learning-to-eat journey. Enjoy!
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