Mealtimes can be stressful for a lot of families, especially for any family that has a “picky eater”. Thankfully there are many ways we can help kids learn to love new foods in fun and playful ways. During food play and food exploration the focus should be on fun and engagement, therefore we should not expect our kids to eat during this time.
Grandview Kids Occupational Therapists Pamela Lam and Samantha Milligan have some ideas to get your family started on the path to loving food exploration!
- Build a mashed potato volcano with peas as rocks
- Make a log cabin with carrot and other vegetables sticks as the “logs”
- Engage in a stamping craft using cut fruits and vegetables as the “stamps” and pudding or fruit sauce as the “paint”
- Painting with food – try yogurt, pudding, pasta sauce, or apple sauce. If your child can tolerate it, have them paint with their fingers (you may even get a lick!). If they are unsure about finger painting you can use a paintbrush.
- Car wash – Driving cars through “mud” (whipped cream, apple sauce, or pudding) on a cookie tray, then use a spray bottle with water to “take them through the car wash” afterwards
- Create robots using toothpicks and various small fruits and vegetables (e.g., strawberries, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, grapes, etc.) as that various robot pieces and the toothpicks to join the pieces
- Make housing and castle structures out of grapes and/or marshmallows and toothpicks
- Make a food scavenger or “egg” hunt around the house to include some familiar and some unfamiliar foods
- Academics – have your child sort food by colour, shape, or even smell!
- Keep mealtimes short 20-30 minutes
- Try to prevent grazing between meals (this means milk as well) – we don’t want them filling up in between so they are not hungry for mealtimes
- If possible, eat as a family so that you can model for your kids. Kids learn best from siblings, peers and from you!
- Don’t give up! It can take over 20 exposures for a child to truly know if they like something, so expose, expose, expose!
- Watch your language! The more you call your child a picky eater, the more they may internalize this label. Instead try using fun alternatives such as food explorer or food scientist. If your child says they don’t like something, or says “yuck”, you can instead encourage them to say “I don’t like this yet” or “I’m still learning about this food.”