September 07, 2022

Should My Child Be Playing With Food?

Should My Child Be Playing With Food?

Written by Pamela Lim,

We’ve had this concept of ‘not playing with your food’ drilled into us from the time we were young and chances are that we’re also drilling it into our children.

There are times when you’ve just spent a great deal of time creating a meal you think your child will love but as it turns out that your child just refuse to just try one bite!

We often get into battles of wills at the dinner table. But kids know you can’t actually force them to eat. Instead, practice taking the pressure off. Research has shown that letting your kid play with their food without giving them the added pressure to actually eat it, can help them safely explore new tastes and textures in an anxiety-free environment. Kids learn through play and by bringing that concept to the mealtime, it can be a game-changer for many kids. This is especially effective for kids with sensory challenges or certain food or texture aversions. 

Bringing play into the picture at snack time or mealtime can certainly help kids get familiar with new food. Letting kids play with food can actually decrease anxiety and remove that sense of pressure to eat thus empowering their curiosity.

Kids may get messy when learning about food and that means allowing kids the freedom to stack, roll or squash what’s on their plate with the aim of just experiencing with the idea of the food and its texture, smell and colour. This is especially helpful when introducing foods that they haven’t seen before.

Playing with food allows your child to see, smell, feel, hear what it sounds like when you squish a pea or snap a carrot stick and even tasting it. This sensory experience helps with language development, problem solving skills, focus, concentration in trying new things.

You will know how tough it is to get a picky eater to try anything new. Letting children play with food lets them experience the food through different senses. They’ll feel the textures with their hands instead of their tongues, which becomes more approachable as they take the time to smell or inspect food visually. This gets your child comfortable with the food so that when it’s presented as a consumable part of a meal, they may be more willing to try it.

Explore Food Through Play

  • Let your child watch you cook or an older child can learn to cook alongside with you. Try your best not to stress out over messes as this is part of the sensory process.
  • Create fun ideas to present food. Arrange fruit in a rainbow order or cut veggies into different shapes. Use cookie cutters to cut bread slices into shapes.
  • Help create a meal more interesting or colourful. What food can you add to your meal to look more like a forest, garden or the rainbow?
  • String cereal on yarn to make a necklace or a bracelet.
  • Make faces with different food items.

Giving your child the opportunity to play, learn and eat while you eat alongside with them encourages learning as it sets up a happy long term relationship with food. 

While table manners are a very valuable skill, these can come in due course at the next stage. In the meantime, opening your child up to the wide variety of food and all the sensory experiences that come with it is just incredibly important especially when they’re young.