In a world where most kids have a structured education in the classroom, play is becoming the forgotten educator. While we know that play-based learning helps increase attention, sensory processing, motor skills, problem-solving abilities and so much more, does the same apply to playing with our food?
It is no secret that fast-paced eating has long dominated our society, but how is this impacting our little ones? Eating “on-the-go” reduces our tactile experience with food and often results in consumption of the same food groups more regularly. Have you noticed picky eating in your child? Preferences for certain tastes, textures or smells? This is an ever-growing problem among children today that results in limited diet, compromised nutrition and increased parent-child stress. Here’s what you can do:
- Present three foods on your child’s plate per meal. This increases exposure to different foods and the opportunity to expand the diet. If your child will not eat a certain food, do not pressure them to try it. We should keep mealtime experiences positive.
- Schedule play time with food. This is a time where there is no expectation to eat or even taste the food presented. This may be painting with yogurt, racing cars through broccoli forests or having boat races with celery. Food play allows your child to interact with the texture, become comfortable with the smell and see the food with no pressure to eat.
- Conduct a taste test. Let your child taste a variety of foods, even if they are not consuming large quantities of the food. Just tasting a new or nonpreferred food is a success as it often takes many times tasting it for a child to like the food.
- Let your kid be the chef. An easy way to encourage food play at home is to allow your child to help cook, bake and prepare foods with you. This exposes the child to various textures, smells and food experiences while also involving them in the process.
- Make mealtime fun! Always address mealtime with positivity and excitement to let your child know this is not meant to be a stressful or scary experience. Whether it be decorating placemats for the table or using new utensils, think of ways to involve your child and create a fun environment for the table.
If after implementing these strategies at home you still feel your child is struggling, an occupational therapist or speech therapist can assist with feeding therapy. These sessions incorporate food play, oral motor control, feeding utensil use and more to help expand your child’s diet as well as make them more efficient eaters. Click here to learn more.