Embracing Food Play: Unveiling the Benefits for Picky Eaters

Embracing Food Play: Unveiling the Benefits for Picky Eaters

Dealing with a picky eater can be a challenging aspect of parenting, often leaving parents searching for innovative approaches to make mealtimes more enjoyable. In the quest to transform the dining table into a space of exploration and excitement, one unconventional yet effective strategy has emerged: allowing picky eaters to play with their food. In this article, we'll delve into the reasons why encouraging food play has been a game-changer for the families we've worked with.

Positive Exposure to New Sensory Components of New Foods

Did you know that each food has their own unique sensory component? Think of an avocado and a banana - yes both are soft and squishy, but one is green and the other is yellow. One has a neutral flavor and the other is sweet! All of these new sensory experiences can be overwhelming for a child who is learning about so many new foods in their first few years of life. If your child cannot stand looking a food, touching it, or even smelling it in the room, food play can be a first step to familiarizing your child to each sensory component of that food! In our therapy sessions, we often use food play as a tool to familiarize children with new foods in a non-threatening way. The tactile experience of touching, squishing, and even creating with different foods can gradually desensitize picky eaters to the unfamiliar sensations, making them more open to trying new things.

Fostering a Sense of Autonomy

Picky eaters may resist trying new foods due to a sense of powerlessness or lack of control. Trying new foods can be SCARY for many kids, and it is through allowing them to take the lead and having autonomy over their own sense of safety when trying new foods that can help picky eaters try new foods. Food play allows children to interact with the food at their own pace, giving them a sense of autonomy.  Whether it's building structures with food or arranging ingredients on a plate, letting picky eaters make decisions and guide the activity empowers them, creating a positive association with trying new foods. 

Making "Trying A New Food" an Enjoyable Experience

Traditional approaches to get picky eaters to try new foods often involve coercion and negotiation, turning exploration of new foods into stressful events for both parents and children. In our experience, food play allows parents to introduce new foods, without the child even knowing the main agenda is to try the new food! Food play allows picky eaters to engage with food in a way that feels natural and enjoyable. By incorporating creativity and playfulness, children can develop a positive relationship with a variety of foods. When they see food as something to explore without the pressure to try the food, the likelihood of trying new foods increases.

A Chance to Work on Other Skills

Food play can serve as a multifaceted tool for child development, encompassing various developmental and educational skills. As an occupational therapist, I often work on fine motor skills (example: using tongs to pick up berries), gross motor skills (example: relay race and balancing a carrot on a spoon), self-regulation skills (example: teaching children how to do belly breathes by blowing raspberries on a kitchen counter), and so much more, while exploring the different sensory properties of new foods. Even in the kitchen, little chefs engage in activities like measuring ingredients, following recipes, and exploring different textures and tastes, which enhances their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and sensory awareness. Additionally, planning and executing a recipe involve cognitive skills such as sequencing and problem-solving. Math concepts like counting, measuring, and understanding fractions are seamlessly integrated into the cooking process, providing an interactive and practical learning experience. Overall, food play serves as a holistic platform where children can develop a range of physical, cognitive, social abilities (and so much more) while having fun and cultivating a positive relationship with food.

You want to try food play but don't know where to start? What next?

You want to embark on a journey to introduce food play into your family's routine but unsure where to start? Look no further! Our weekly blogs are tailored just for you, offering insightful tips, creative ideas, and expert advice to transform your picky eater's relationship with food. From fun and interactive recipes to practical strategies for encouraging food exploration, our content is designed to make mealtime an enjoyable adventure for the whole family. Stay connected with our community by checking out our blog every week for fresh inspiration. Plus, don't forget to follow us on Instagram @pickyeatingexperts for daily doses of food play games and strategies. Subscribe to our emails to receive exclusive content, special offers, and a wealth of resources that will guide you on the path to fostering a positive and adventurous attitude toward food in your household.

Let's make mealtime a joyous experience together!

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