Picky eaters may need to see food from a different perspective. Playing with food may seem counterintuitive, but remember, eating at this age is about discovery. Give these activities a try:
- Edible art
Allow your child to create artwork using various food items.
Incorporate foods that vary in texture, temperature, and taste, like leafy greens, dried grains and beans, and raw vegetables. You can also use fruits or vegetables as stamps or stencils.
- Let food be the paint
Have your child paint with pudding, yogurt, or Cool Whip. Add food coloring to get different colors. Instead of doing this on paper, use parchment, aluminum foil, or a cookie sheet for easy clean up.
- Imaginative play
Bring out the toy cars, dinosaurs, animals, and action figures and have your child create scenes with food. Maybe mashed potatoes become a volcano, or applesauce becomes a muddy swamp. Give them ideas, but let their creativity guide them.
- Play in cooked pasta
Cook any leftover pasta, add food coloring if you have any, and let them engage in it without pressure to eat it (and if they do, that’s a bonus). Try it out with different pasta shapes.
- Sensory bin, food edition
You may be familiar with using rice, pasta, or beans, but get creative with what’s in the pantry. Try flour, brown sugar, cereal, or cornmeal.
- Sensory tray, food edition
Just like the sensory bin, but the tray lets you can experiment with wet ingredients. Try some canned fruit, oatmeal, or even peanut butter and jelly.
- Make and Bake
Baking cookies, brownies, or cakes are helpful in getting used to sticky and mushy textures. Don’t feel like baking? Prepping healthy snacks, like Ants on a Log or finger sandwiches are just as effective.
- Make your own dressing
Even the pickiest of eaters will try something they make. If you have a child who has an aversion to veggies or different flavors, help them make their own salad dressing or dip.
- Experiment with food
Some foods are just interesting. With supervision, explore the different properties of certain food items. A marshmallow is firm and squishy, but what happens if you put it in hot cocoa? What about in the microwave for 15 seconds? What if you freeze it?
- Play with frozen foods
Temperature can change texture and consistency. If your child is not a fan of certain vegetables, pull the frozen versions of them out and let them play with it. You can also try making fruit and veggie smoothies with them afterwards.
- In the name of science!
Add foods to make different substances. Add cocoa powder to an Oobleck recipe to make a non-Newtonian substance. Combine marshmallows and peanut butter to make edible playdough. Even making Jell-O is science in itself.
Kranowitz, C.S. (2006). The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorders. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
“39 Edible Sensory Play Ideas for Little Ones“. Hands On as We Grow.