Play is a fantastic way to increase exposure to food and build positive food experiences. Resistant eaters can benefit from contact with food in ways unrelated to mealtimes. Creating positive food experiences without the pressure of eating can slowly increase your child’s confidence with different textures and sensory experiences.
As with any eating intervention, this can take time. The best interventions for eating selectivity involve small, progressive steps and keeping things positive. Make sure there is no pressure to interact with the food, make it as fun as possible and try to set an example by showing yourself having fun too!
Take a look below for ideas on how to get started at home.
Food Music: Fill pots or bottles with dried beans or rice and tightly fasten the lid. Use as maracas to make different sounds. You can also fill jars with different amounts of liquid so it will make different pitch sounds when hit with a spoon or stick.
Grow your own: Involve your child by putting seeds in pots and caring for the plants as they grow. As their confidence develops, they can help pick, wash, and prepare your home-grown veggies.
‘Not-so messy’ play: A great way to explore challenging textures without getting their hands mucky. Put different sauces (e.g., jam, ketchup, mayonnaise, baked beans) into small zip-lock plastic bags. Encourage your child to squish and squeeze the bags so that the sauces move to different parts of the bag.
Not too messy
Off-road obstacle course: Place old dry food items into a large container. Use oats, grains, rice, and cereal as rough ‘gravel.’ Add toy car to drive through foods and over obstacles.
Jewellery Making: Thread pasta tubes, Cheerio’s, or any other appropriate food onto a piece of string. Make necklaces, bracelets, and headbands for your child to wear.
Brown sugar ‘Sandcastles’: Place a bag of brown sugar on a tray or in a large container. The sugar can be easily moulded using cups, Tupperware, or hands. Add toy figures to create a play-castle to crush and rebuild.
Jelly lucky dip: Make up a packet of jelly according to the directions on the package. Before the jelly sets, place some small objects into the jelly (e.g. a toy car, a plastic dinosaur, or plastic insects). When the jelly is set, take turns with your child to feel and find the buried treasure.
Veggie prints: Paint different vegetables to create a picture. Use broccoli and cauliflower heads dipped in paint as stamps, cut shapes in potatoes or corn on the cobb as a textured paint roller. See how the textures leave different patterns!
Food art: Involve your child in the kitchen by making art out of the food itself! See our gingerbread man visual recipe to help get you started. Spark their interest by incorporating special interests such as their favourite characters.
Before trying a new strategy to expand your child’s diet, it is important to remember that eating issues are complex. Understanding what causes your child’s eating selectivity is an important first step to get them more comfortable with food. Before introducing any changes to your child’s diet, you should raise concerns with a GP or dietician to rule out potential underlying causes such as bowel problems and allergies.