This post was written by Pediatric Dietitian Danielle Zold RDN, CLC
Now you might be thinking, “wait a second… you want my kid to play with food?”
Yup! That is the goal. As silly as that may sound.
Playing is how kids learn, they are tiny scientists. They are constantly exploring their environment, learning new textures, and conducting experiments.
Typically science experiments may include things like: “what will the dog do if I drop my food?” well, look at it more like: “What happens if I squish this grape?”
Studies have show that the more your child interacts with food, the more likely it is that they will eat it! In fact, it can take 15 to 20 exposures for a child to accept a new food. The more positive exposures the child has to a specific food, the better!
Here are 5 ways to get your child to interact with foods in a positive manner:
1. Tic Tac Toe
This is a fun way for both young an older kids to explore touching food. You can cut foods such as apples, pears, or any kind of food you have on hand into “x” shapes. Any kind of coin-shaped foods will work for the “o”s (think carrots, sausage, or even cheerios!).
This is great for two reasons: first, your child will be touching the food every time they make a move. Secondly, this is a game that you can teach your child about and play together in the future!
I love to use food as sprinkles. Everyone loves sprinkles! Instead of the kind you buy in the baking aisle, you can get creative. You can use chia seeds, riced broccoli, flax seeds, grated carrots, or even frozen yogurt dots! It transforms the food into something much more exciting. You can add this to anything: scrambled eggs, smoothies, toast, yogurt, smoothies, etc. To get your child more involved, you can have your child measure out the quantity of sprinkles they’d like and have them add it to their food themselves!
3. Beet Stamps
This is one of my favorite food-related crafts but it will require some prep work from mom or dad. I prefer using beets with the leaves still on because it makes it easier to hold, but any beet will do. Using a knife, slice the bottom of the beet to create a flat surface. Take a toothpick and create an etching in the flat part of the beet in the shape of your choosing.
Make sure it is about ½ centimeter into the beet. Then, take a knife and cut away at the beet outside of your shape. The remaining beet should be ready to be pressed into paper, just like a stamp. Alternatively, you can simply cut the beet and leave only the shape you’d like – there will just be no “handle”. Kids LOVE this! Their hands will probably be temporarily stained bright red, but that’s okay! Remember – they’re learning. Just make sure anything you don’t want to risk getting stained is out of the way.
4. Scenery/Face Plates
We can also use food as art! This is where we can really get creative. You can arrange food into different scenes or even faces on the plate and serve it to your child. Broccoli becomes little trees, rice becomes sand, and orange slices turn into the sun. Tap into your child’s imagination. What kind of things do they enjoy? Encourage your child to point to the nose, take a dinosaur bite out of the trees, etc. Playing pretend with food can be a great way to have your child interact with food.
What kid doesn’t love to paint? This is great because we can create two exposures to food in one fun activity. You will need a “paintbrush” and some kind of “paint.” For my paint brushes, I like to use a long piece of food - think green beans, asparagus, or even pretzels. The “paint” can be any kind of sauce, condiment, or puree. You could use hummus, ketchup, or pudding for example! To take it a step further, you could use a tortilla as a “canvas” for your child’s artwork.
There are many ways to play with food, but the most important thing is that your kiddo is having fun and enjoying interacting with food.
If you feel like you need additional support for your picky eater, please check out my website. I am available for consultations at pickyeatingdietitian.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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