Playing With Your Food!

Guest Authored By Heather Fite, M.S., OTR/L

Does your child have a difficult time with eating certain textures, consistencies, or flavored foods? They won’t eat mixed textures, things that are green, or things that feel slimy? Do they have a difficult time getting messy, requiring you to wash their hands and face any time they have something on them? These things have more in common than you might realize.

In order for someone to be willing to put food in their mouth and to be able to eat it, they must first be willing to explore it outside of the body. Feeding requires more than just the sense of taste. It requires sight, smell, touch (tactile input), and the feedback in the jaw one receives by chewing food (proprioceptive input). Eating is a highly sensory rich activity. When children are not able to interpret or understand the information or when their body is not regulated and ready to eat, this sensory-rich experience can become overwhelming.

Starting with the basics is important! During feeding therapy, we encourage children to explore, or play, with their food. If a child is able to explore the food and tolerate it with all of their senses outside of their body, they are more willing to put it in their mouth, increasing the potential of them eating it. There are many different ways to encourage your child to play with their food. Here are some examples:

  • Painting – Using sauces and spreads as a type of “paint” and using the food that they are eating as the “paint brush” is fun and messy. Encouraging the child to use their fingers to complete “finger painting” is even better! Some sauces and spreads to consider trying are ketchup, peanut or almond butter, Nutella, jelly, ranch dressing, etc.
  • Themes – What does your child like? Dinosaurs? Cars? Playing house? Make the food into different objects or characters. A piece of broccoli becomes a car that drives around the road,
    a. k.a the place mat. The chicken nuggets are all different family members that get to go swimming in the pool, a.k.a. ketchup. The more creative and fun you make it, the more encouraged the child will be to play along.
  • Making Shapes/Animals – Cookie cutters are not just for baking. They make great utensils for making items, such as bread, cheese, pancakes, etc., into different shapes and animals. If you don’t have access to cookie cutters, using a knife or your fingers to be creative and make different things is also a great option. For example, rolling pieces of bread into small balls to create a snowman and using peanut butter to make them stick together, pretzels as arms, and raisins as eyes.

This may go against everything you have every learned. Flash back to your parents saying, “Don’t play with your food;” but, when you are thinking about wanting to help your child learn to eat new foods, this is by far the most fun way to do so! For more information or more ideas please reach out to your child’s feeding therapist.