Food play ideas! One of our favorite tips for picky eaters is to incorporate intentional food play into mealtime. 15 fun ideas for food play.
You may have heard the saying that kids need up to 15 exposures before they’ll accept a new food.
This is true for infants, but older kids may need years of exposure before they’ll regularly eat what’s on their plate.
And, food exposure doesn’t just involve taste.
In order to learn about new foods and accept them (or not), children use all of their senses to explore: touch, smell, sound, sight, and taste.
One way to help kids become more familiar with “learning to like” foods is to try food play activities.
Experiencing the food in a pressure-free zone allows children to engage without the fear that they’ll be forced to eat said food.
What is Food Play?
Food play is a therapeutic approach to help expose and encourage acceptance of foods for young kids.
It can be especially helpful during phases of picky eating, when parents and caregivers are often feeling at a loss of how to help encourage a child’s eating habits.
Food play helps to desensitize foods for kids, and can reduce fear and anxiety around foods.
It serves as a low-pressure and positive interaction for kids to use all of their senses at the meal table, which can help encourage trying new things.
15 Food Play Activities for Picky Eaters
Below are 15 examples of food play activities you can try with your child to help encourage exposure and acceptance.
1. Purées + Paintbrushes
Pop open a few jars of colorful purees and let your babes go to town “painting” on paper or even a white countertop. If any gets in their mouth, no worries, it’s non-toxic paint!
2. Spaghetti + Sea Creatures
This is a great activity for babes with sensory issues. Simply cook a bunch of spaghetti and add their favorite toys. Bonus points if you want to add food-based colors to make rainbow spaghetti.
3. Broccoli + Builders
Children’s least favorite veggie makes the perfect tree stand-in. Chop it up and let kids line them up and knock them down (or plant them!) with Duplos, trucks, Lego people, or dinosaurs.
4. Cucumber Castles
The building possibilities with cucumbers slices (or another hard veggie) are endless. See if anyone wants to crunch the “bricks” along the way!
5. Creepy Crawly Peas
Peas are perfect for pincer and fine motor development. They also make an awesome tool for practicing counting or building creepy crawlies!
6. Pizza Portraits
This one isn’t strictly playing, but we have a feeling your kids will be okay getting a pizza out of it! Have kids use chopped-up veggies to decorate their own personal pizzas. Whose is the most colorful or full of texture? Can you make a smiley face or an animal shape?
7. Food in a Familiar Song
If your child is really into songs or stories, this once may resonate well. All you have to do is replace common lyrics with food ones. For instance, “Put your zucchini in, put your zucchini out, put your zucchini in and you shake it all about…”
8. Food Knowledge
For some kids, learning more about the foods on their plate can spark more interest in trying them. This could include looking up pictures, fun facts, and other ways to prepare the food online, or reading a picture book together about it.
9. Food Stamp Art
A great touch-based activity for foods is to make a stamp out of them. These can be done either by cutting out shapes with a knife or a cookie cutter. Of course, the actual stamps won’t be the pieces you’re serving for a meal. But prior to the meal, you could make zucchini stars or apple hearts to paint on paper.
10. Fruit and Veggie Towers
Jenga for the meal table! Who can build the tallest tower with sliced fruits or veggies before it topples over? What shapes and sizes work best for building the most sturdy structure?
11. Guess By Smell
For foods with a distinct aroma, try passing a blindfold around the table and each taking turns trying to guess what it is. Take the blindfold off and have your child guess from a few options in front of them.
12. Listen to Food Noises
For this game, you may get the added benefit of a few quieter moments than usual in your home! Everyone has to be silent, so that you can hear the noises certain foods make. For example, have your child hold up a squishy food to their ear, press on it, and describe what they hear.
13. Simon Says
Play a food version of this game, where your child gets to instruct you to place the food on different parts of your body, make it dance, make a noise, take a bite, etc.
14. Choose the Best Dip
Have one food served with a side of three different dips. Maybe this is one sweet, one spicy, and one creamy. Everyone can take turns trying the food with the dips and casting their vote for which flavor pairing is the best one.
15. Choose the Best Temperature
Try serving a food at three different temperatures and sharing opinions on which one tastes the best. For example, mango slices served frozen, fresh at room temperature, or mashed and slightly warmed in the microwave.
Have fun with these food play ideas! Incorporating food play into mealtime can be immensely helpful when kids are trying new foods or going through picky eating phases. Have a parent who would benefit from these? Send them this list of 15 fun ideas for food play!
Chime In: Have you practiced food play at meals with your kids? What has your experience been? Share any of your favorite ideas below!
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