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Think about how your toddler or young child learns about their world.

They ask questions. They touch things and feel them. This is often known as play-based learning. It is a natural experience of learning, building confidence, and acquiring new skills.

Experiences learning about food are no exception.

Engaging with food using our senses and sense of exploration is a productive experience. Many kids will naturally do this, but many – especially extreme picky eaters – might need a nudge and can benefit from the invitation to engage with their food using their senses and curious nature before tasting.

The next time you introduce a new food, encourage your picky eater to explore their food. Better yet, schedule in some no strings attached play in which they can just have fun with food on their own terms with no expectation that they will eat.

Allowing them to explore food at their own pace and in a fun environment can help decrease their hesitation to try new foods by helping them to get to know their food in a more intimate way. This sort of play is shown to decrease picky eating behaviors and increase comfort with new foods, leading to a greater likelihood of tasting.

Incorporating food play or exploration into your family meals can push things along quicker and allow your child to become more confident with new foods.

You can always bring in a sense of exploration at the table by asking questions like:

  • What color is it?

  • What does it smell like?

  • How does it feel?

You can also set aside some dedicated time for play and self-led exploration outside of mealtimes. Try some of the activities below to foster a sense of fun with new foods and help your child feel more comfortable trying new foods.

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15 Easy and Creative Ways for Picky Eaters to Play with Food

  • Make a self portrait

  • Create a landscape collage

  • Sort into categories (food groups, by color, etc)

  • Cut into shapes and use as stamps with paints or purees

  • Paint body art with purees

  • Create a sensory bin using dry goods

  • Make up stories about them

  • Play tic-tac-toe

  • Write your name with different foods and shapes

  • Make a rainbow collage

  • Create “vegetable people” using larger veggies like potatoes or an eggplant (think Mr Potato Head)

  • Finger paint

  • Sword fight

  • Build a tower

  • Put into a mystery box and identify the food by scent or shape

Recap

Exploration and play helps children learn. Picky eaters often shy away from interacting with novel foods.

Homework

Using the above activities as inspiration, set aside time weekly for them to play with their food.

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