Should Kids Play with their Food?

Playing with food is usually not considered a good thing but I think it can be, especially for babies and toddlers that are resistant to trying new foods. It is natural for little ones to be cautious of new things – especially new food. When we let them explore food with all their senses it gives them an opportunity to “get to know” their food and become comfortable with it. It’s natural for them to explore new foods with their eyes, ears, nose and hands before trying a bite. Keep in mind they might spit it out and that is okay too. Training taste buds takes time. The goal is for your child to develop positive feelings and connections with their food.

Of course I’m not suggesting we encourage messy food fights, there is definitely a need for learning table manners as well, I think that food play can be a healthy and normal process of accepting new foods. Perhaps allowing this process to happen might even help prevent some of the picky eating issues that come up as toddlers become preschoolers.

When my daughter was a baby I’d often let her play with food (when we didn’t have a busy day) she would sit in her high chair and have a great time exploring her food. She especially loved avocados, feeling the bumpy texture of the skin with her little fingers, bringing it to her nose to smell it, smearing it around her tray like a painting, it usually ended up all over her face and hands but she loved every minute of it! As much as possible we encouraged her to feed herself so that she would get to explore get to know her food…is was a messy fun filled experience!

For older children it can still be fun to incorporate some fun and play into their food. They can make faces with the food on their plate, use fun cutlery or dishes; perhaps their fruit is served on a popsicle stick there are plenty of ways to make healthy food fun. We want our kids to enjoy healthy food and letting them have a little fun with it once it while really helps. So often “fun food” is synonymous with junk food and it doesn’t have to be that way!

My advice to parents is to let food be an enjoyable learning experience!

  • Let your babies explore their food and engage their five senses!
  • Give your kids the chance to decide how they want to try a food. If your toddler wants to put together strange combinations of food, let them, they might just come up with something they love!
  • Show your kids that healthy foods can be fun and that it’s okay to use their imaginations to come up with cool ways to serve their food.

Having a little fun at mealtimes is a secret to successful food acceptance and to helping your kids develop a positive relationship with healthy food that will last a lifetime. That is one of the best gifts you can give your kids.

What was the first food your little one explored?

Published on: August 16, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Kia Robertson

Kia Robertson is a mom and the creator of the Today I Ate A Rainbow kit; a tool that helps parents establish healthy eating habits by setting the goal of eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day.

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Recent Comments

We did baby-led solids, which meant that my daughter was finger-feeding herself solids starting at 6 months old. As you can imagine, this involved a good deal more “playing” (and wearing) than eating in the beginning, which was fine with us.

She’s now almost five, and still enjoys playing with food, although now it’s more about making the foods and utensils talk to each other, and to her.

We never make her eat anything she doesn’t want, and encourage her to stop when she’s full, but we also encourage her to give everything a taste, and often have to redirect her attention to her food when she gets distracted.

The best way we’ve found to do that is for the food to “talk” to her and ask to go to “the party in her tummy.” The sillier the better, as far as she’s concerned. She particularly likes it when her pineapple dances the hula, or the fork challenges her to try to catch the food it’s holding.

Works for us.

Beautiful! That combination of giving everything a taste, but not forcing foods is great. It gives kids a change to learn to love foods. And I love that celebratory, fun approach to good food.