How to Overcome Picky Eating: 10 Benefits of Food Play for Kids

As an expert children’s dietitian, I’ve dedicated my career to helping families navigate the often challenging journey of feeding their little ones. With my expertise and tailored support, I empower parents to overcome mealtime struggles and create positive eating experiences for their children.

In this blog, I want to delve into the transformative benefits of incorporating playful activities into your child’s feeding journey. There is lots of ways you can do this, one such example being the fun with food play card deck which has 99 playful activities to help picky eaters or problem feeders to new foods with excitement and curiosity.


What are some of the benefits of food play?


1. Building Confidence

Engaging in playful activities builds confidence around food exploration. By encouraging children to interact with food in a fun and non-threatening way, they gradually develop a sense of familiarity and comfort with new foods.

Practical Tip: Create a “food exploration station” where children can touch, smell, and play with different fruits and vegetables. Encourage them to describe the textures, colours, and smells, fostering a sense of curiosity and confidence.

2. Expanding Palates

Through playful interactions with food, children are more willing to taste and explore a variety of flavours and textures. Each playful activity serves as an opportunity to introduce new foods in a positive and non-intimidating manner.

Practical Tip: Turn meal preparation into a fun and interactive experience by involving children in grocery shopping and meal planning. Encourage them to choose a new fruit or vegetable to try each week, building excitement around trying new foods.

3. Reducing Anxiety

For children with feeding challenges, mealtime can be a source of stress and anxiety. Playful food activities provide a safe and supportive environment for food exploration, helping to alleviate mealtime pressure and create a sense of relaxation and enjoyment.

Practical Tip: Incorporate sensory play into mealtime by using fun utensils, plates, and cups. Encourage children to explore the different textures and temperatures of foods, focusing on the sensory experience rather than the act of eating.

4. Enhancing Family Bonding

Incorporating playful food activities into mealtimes fosters meaningful connections and quality bonding moments between parents and children. It’s an opportunity for families to share laughter, creativity, and joy around the dinner table.

Practical Tip: Schedule regular “family cooking nights” where everyone participates in preparing a meal together. Encourage children to contribute ideas for recipes and help with age-appropriate tasks, creating cherished memories and fostering a positive relationship with food.

5. Encouraging Independence

Engaging in food play empowers children to take ownership of their eating habits and develop a sense of autonomy. By offering opportunities for choice and exploration, parents support their child’s journey towards becoming a more independent eater.

Practical Tip: Create a “build-your-own” meal station with a variety of toppings and ingredients, allowing children to assemble their own meals based on their preferences. Encourage them to experiment with different combinations and flavours, fostering a sense of culinary creativity.

6. Improving Nutritional Intake

Playful food activities provide opportunities for children to explore a wide range of nutritious foods in a fun and interactive way. By incorporating fruits, vegetables, and other new foods into playful snacks and meals, parents can promote healthy eating habits and support their child’s nutritional needs.

Practical Tip: Experiment with themed food challenges or cooking competitions, encouraging children to create balanced and nutritious meals using a variety of ingredients. Offer praise and encouragement for their culinary creations, highlighting the nutritional benefits of the foods they’ve chosen.

7. Stimulating Senses

Food play engages multiple senses, including sight, smell, touch, and taste, providing a rich sensory experience for children. By stimulating their senses in a positive and playful manner, parents can help their child develop a greater appreciation for different foods and flavours.

Practical Tip: Set up a “sensory tasting station” with a variety of foods representing different textures, temperatures, and tastes. Encourage children to explore each food using their senses, describing their observations and preferences.

8. Promoting Language Development

Engaging in food play encourages children to communicate and express themselves verbally, supporting the development of language and communication skills. By discussing the colours, shapes, and textures of foods, parents can enrich their child’s vocabulary and encourage meaningful conversations around mealtime.

Practical Tip: Use descriptive language to engage children in discussions about food. Encourage them to use words like “crunchy,” “juicy,” and “sweet” to describe their sensory experiences, fostering language development and communication skills.

9. Cultivating Creativity

Food play provides opportunities for children to unleash their creativity and imagination in the kitchen. By encouraging experimentation and exploration, parents can nurture their child’s culinary creativity and inspire a lifelong love of cooking and food.

Practical Tip: Encourage children to invent their own recipes and culinary creations using a variety of ingredients and flavours. Provide guidance and support as needed, allowing them to express their creativity and culinary vision.

10. Fostering Positive Associations with Food

Engaging in playful activities with food creates positive associations and memories around mealtime, helping to counteract negative experiences and associations with certain foods. By making mealtimes fun and enjoyable, parents can cultivate a positive attitude towards food and eating in their children.

Practical Tip: Incorporate themed food experiences into special occasions and celebrations, such as holidays or family gatherings. Create festive and colourful food displays, and encourage children to participate in food preparation and presentation, fostering positive associations and memories around mealtime.

These are just a few of the many benefits of incorporating food play into your child’s feeding journey. By embracing creativity and exploration, parents can unlock the joy of eating and empower their picky eaters to develop healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.

How I Can Help:

With my expertise in children’s nutrition and feeding dynamics, I offer personalised support and guidance to families facing mealtime and feeding challenges. Whether your child is a picky eater, a problem feeder, or somewhere in between, I’m here to provide practical strategies, tailored action plans, and ongoing encouragement to help your family thrive.

Together, we’ll embark on a journey towards joyful mealtimes and confident eating habits. Let’s turn mealtime struggles into success stories, one playful activity at a time.

Contact me today to learn more about how I can support your family on its feeding journey. Together, we’ll navigate the path to happy, healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.

Written by Dr Kirsty Porter, Children’s Dietitian


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