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Why Is Food Play Important For Picky Eaters?

What Is Food Play? 

As a child, most of our parents would tell us not to play with our food…well, sometimes playing with food is a great benefit for children. 

Food play is an important sensory play activity for children with sensory defensiveness and those that are picky eaters. This type of play can be fun and a non stressful way for children to explore different foods using all of their senses. Children gain skills through play-based learning. Food play is a great opportunity for children to explore and learn about foods and over time become comfortable with interacting with the foods. Not only does food play increase exposure to different foods, it improves fine motor skills for self-feeding, imaginative play, family interaction, and increases vocabulary to help describe foods.

Food Play Activities: 

  • Pretending to make a meal for you, their dolls or friends.
  • Having a tea party with dolls or parents.
  • Playing restaurant
  • Using a paint brush and paint with puree food
  • Using tongs to play with cooked noodles
  • Cutting foods with knife or a cookie cutter
  • Simon Says with food (placing food on different parts of the body, make it dance, make a noise, take a bite, etc.)
  • Making a sensory box out of cereal or dried noodles
  • Drawing with shaving cream, apple sauce, or pudding with their finger
  • Driving cars and digging through rice, beans, or dried noodles
  • Cutting foods into small pieces to feed to toy animals

Great Tips for Setting Up Food Play Activities: 

During food play, go with the pace of the child. Do not force your child to do food play. It should be a positive and low-pressure activity. Present foods with different colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. You can present foods during food play that you would like your child to eventually eat. It is important that food play should not be engaged in the child’s regular mealtime environment. Conduct it outside, on the floor with a blanket, activity table, etc. During food play, it is okay if the child denies eating the food that is being presented. Remember the goal is to expose the child to these foods not consumption. You can model eating the foods but try not to pressure your child into eating.

How Can Carolina Therapy Connection Help?

In addition to utilizing the tips above at home, we know that sometimes children need an extra push to expand their food repertoire. At Carolina Therapy Connection, our occupational and speech therapists provide feeding therapy that uses a collaborative approach to work closely with you and your child to determine the source of a child’s feeding difficulties, and develop specific intervention plans to make the entire eating process easier and more enjoyable. Often times, feeding therapy happens on a weekly basis and may consist of working on difficulty with trying new foods, chewing, swallowing, sensory issues, irritability at meal time and so much more. Our goals are to broaden your child’s scope of foods, teach them the benefits of healthy eating, and develop oral motor skills needed for optimal growth and nutrition.

Our Occupational Therapists take a sensory-based feeding approach to therapy.  They focus on: oral motor skills, sensory sensitivities, progressing through food textures, and using adaptive equipment and tools to develop self-feeding skills. They also use a process called food chaining, which is a child-friendly treatment approach that helps introduce new foods while building on the child’s past successful eating experiences. In this process, the child is presented with new foods that may be similar in taste, temperature, or texture to foods the child already likes and accepts. Our occupational therapists are certified in the SOS Feeding Approach, a nationally and internationally recognized approach for assessing and treating children with feeding difficulties.

Our feeding therapists have 15-20 years of experience with children of all ages and a variety of feeding disorders. They have certifications in SOS and AEIOU approaches and significant training from around the country on feeding approaches, treatment strategies, and focused plans. We also having consistent collaboration with other professionals in the community to guarantee the best care. Call our clinic at 252-341-9944 for a free phone screening with one of our feeding therapists and schedule an evaluation today!