“DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD!” How many of us heard these words as children only to repeat them to our little ones? Let me tell you, letting kiddos play with their food is actually good!
Sometimes referred to as “sensory play with food”, this type of play is important because it helps your toddler engage their senses, which helps with future learning. And when sensory play is focused on food, it becomes even more stimulating because food (and mealtime) is the ultimate sensory experience!
Playing with Food
Playing with food is usually not considered a good thing by parents, but it is important for toddlers to explore and play with food. Why? It is natural for little ones to be cautious of new things, especially new food.
When we let kids explore and play with food, it gives them an opportunity to get to know their food and become comfortable with it (before they taste and eventually eat it).
Some toddlers are anxious about unfamiliar foods, and sensory play provides them with some much-needed relaxation when faced with the overwhelming sensory experience of new food. Smashing, squishing, poking, and rolling the food can provide stress relief as well as teach them how that food might feel in their mouth (and they just might try it!)
Even if your child is being tube-fed (not primarily eating by mouth), they can still discover the fun aspects of food and enjoy sensory play with their other senses. In these challenging cases, where children have difficulty with the most fundamental aspects of feeding, parents can still achieve feeding progress through sensory play.
If the thought of your toddler playing with food is a bit overwhelming for you, start out with an easy food like Jello and contain the food play activity (and mess) by using the ezpz Play Mat.
I love the Jello-O Play Edible Themes for sensory play. They come in six themes: Edible Sand, Bricks, Sunshine, Ocean, Grass, and Mud. We chose Ocean in Berry Blue with….edible stickers! And it was so much fun!
- Follow the directions on the box and in two hours you will be ready to dive into some serious sensory play.
- We put our edible stickers (which included a treasure chest, pirate flag, and a bunch of cute sea creatures) in the flower compartments of the ezpz Play Mat and squished and played for hours!
- We even used some whipped cream to make “waves” to our ocean theme. And then we added sea creature toys and shells to use after we ate all the edible stickers (which were the favorite even over the Jello)! Be prepared for your kid’s hands to be a little blue and sticky afterward, but that is all a part of the fun!!
Of course, there is a time and a place for playing with food. It’s up to you to set the rules and boundaries for this developmental process. If you are worried about the mess, make a rule about that. If you are concerned about the expense, have limits about that too. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Help your toddler manage their mess with consistent directions and rules. For example, say, “Our sensory play stays on the mat.” Just remember, the goal is for your kids to develop positive feelings and connections with their food…so let them have a little fun (and let the ezpz Play Mat capture all of the mess!)
Have your cleanup tools on hand when gearing up for sensory food play. I have a bin with the following items: baby wipes, sponge, apron, a small handheld broom with a dustpan, paper towels, cleaning spray, and a lint roller. Being organized before a spill occurs is key to keeping your sanity during sensory food play.
Most food play items I buy come in large quantities (e.g., rice, pasta, yogurt, food coloring, sprinkles, beans, cereal, applesauce, cheese, etc.), which saves money in the long run. I often shop at the dollar store for canned food items (peas, pears, fruit cups, etc.). Also, I use the items I receive for free at fast-food restaurants (ketchup packets, straws, ranch dressing, and other dipping containers). Additionally, I purchase items like the Jell-O Play (a pack of 24 for under $50) in bulk on Amazon for playgroups, sleepovers, play dates, or for after sports activities where there are a lot of kids.
When a toddler is engaged in food play they are stimulating their senses for learning. Here are examples of some of the additional skills they are developing during their sensory exploration:
- Fine motor skills (pincer grasp, scooping)
- Mealtime skills (pouring, tasting)
- Gross motor skills (reaching, sitting)
- Language skills (food vocabulary, following directions)
- Play skills (solitary play, imaginary play)
- Social skills (manners, turn-taking)
What are some of your favorite ways to engage your toddler in sensory play? Which food is your go-to for food play fun? Share your pics with me using the hashtag #MsDawnSLP!