Helping your child to become familiar with foods doesn’t just happen at mealtimes. Exploring food through messy food play is often a lot more enjoyable for kids (and parents). After all, there’s no expectation of eating it.
What is messy food play?
Messy food play is any activity that gets your child interacting with food in a stress-free way.
How does messy food play help with fussy eating?
In many cases, children who touch food during food play are more likely to try these foods in the future. Because although many children dislike certain textures, like slimy foods or foods with ‘bits’ messy food play can desensitise them through touch. Messy food play helps children to learn to cope with different textures. We know that seeing and touching helps with eventual tasting.
Ten easy messy food play ideas to get you started!
Head online, there’re literally hundreds of ideas for ‘food messy play’ and ‘food games’. Search for your chosen food, and you’ll find some great ideas. But, here are some to get you started.
Lentils, rice or dry pasta shapes
Fill a large plastic box or bowl with dried lentils, rice or pasta and bury some toys for your child to find.
Porridge oats or dry cereal
Put the cereal into a large baking or roasting dish with sides and let your child measure (if they’re old enough, scoop and play.
Play a guessing game. Ask your child to close their eyes and sniff spices like vanilla, or basil. Ask them, does it smell like cake or like pizza? You can also add spices or extracts to homemade playdough.
Carrot, potato or beetroot stamps
Use cookie cutters to make stamps from these hard vegetables. Then dip into paint or ink and stamp a picture. You can do this with beetroot, but instead of dipping it into the paint, you can get your child to lick it and then press it into their skin for a beetroot tattoo!
When these raw vegetables are cut into coin shapes, they also make great counters for bingo, noughts and crosses or board games.
Asparagus, celery or lettuce
Use these vegetables as paintbrushes!
Meat, cheese, hard-boiled egg or pasta
Cut into small pieces and let your child spear with cocktail sticks, fork or tongs and transfer from one plate to another.
Cucumber and tomatoes
Use cucumber slices and other green vegetables and tomato to make your own ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’.
Draw some faces on paper plates and use food to fill in the features like hair, eyes, eyebrows and teeth.
Pasta sauce, peanut butter or pesto
OK, this is a very messy one that might work better in the garden! Gather some colourful wet foods and some cardboard and let your child get creative!
Even more ideas for messy food play
Sensory Bins-You’ll find hundreds of different ideas here on making sensory bins ranging from easy to elaborate and everything in between.
Adventures in Veggieland-This book by feeding therapist Melanie Potock has recipes and food play ideas for every season.
General sensory play activities-Emma, a mum and speech therapist share gorgeous messy play activities on her website and Instagram.
Remember, this isn’t about eating or nutrition education. So relax, have fun and get messy!
For more ideas on raising a happy, healthy eater check out my Feeding Your Toddler Online Course-8 steps to successful and enjoyable mealtimes.