Have a picnic with plastic animals, sponge-animals, puppets or a plate or bowl with animals or favorite characters on it. This activity allows a picky eater to touch foods and learn about eating them without feeling pressured to eat them himself.
Set up a ‘picnic’ of a few foods on a plate or tray with the hungry animals who need a snack. Try to have at least one food that your picky eater is comfortable touching and make sure the foods you pick are safe for your child’s oral motor, chewing and swallowing skills. If they decide to try a new food, we want it to be a safe experience!
Feed the animals together. Show how you taste and bite into foods. You can invite your child to try the delicious food, too, but don’t pressure them to eat. If they say no, it’s ok, smile, and continue playing. They’re already learning a lot from feeding the animals with you!
Have a bowl of soapy water and a bowl of clear water nearby. After the picnic make washing the animals or plate into a second activity. Kids who don’t like to get their hands messy may want to wash the animals a couple times during the picnic. Most picky eaters who don’t like to touch foods, love water play. If your child doesn’t like to play in water, this is a great sensory activity to get comfortable with before playing with food.
Add Language and Senses:
Talk about how the foods sound when the animals bite them. Show how you take bites and have your child listen for the crunch.
Use positive words about how delicious, tasty, cool and beautiful the food is. We want to give these descriptors to kids so they learn new positive ways to talk about foods. We want to replace ‘ewww, I don’t like it,’ with ‘mmmm, delicious!’
Talk about how hungry the animals are and how they need a snack. This is a great way to talk about hunger and how food can make us feel better and stronger without pointing it out when your own little one is hungry and about to melt down.
Add A Song:
Sing a song about the way we bite and chew foods. ex: ‘I use my teeth to bite, just like this (show biting up and down), I use my teeth to bite just like this. I use my teeth to bite and I use my teeth to chew. I use my teeth to bite just like this.’
This is a fun way to teach how to eat a food (bite, chew, swallow) without putting any pressure on your child to take a bite. Then, when they’re ready to try bites themselves they’ll already be familiar with a way to talk about biting and chewing. Often we tell kids to ‘just eat it,’ but there are a lot of steps to eating and it can help picky eaters to learn more about each one!
This song can really be about any step in the exploration of foods. ex: ‘I use my tongue to taste just like this.’
Add a turn-taking game:
one taste (or bite) for the animal, one taste (or bite) for you.
Enjoy, have fun and happy food play!