We all eat around 3 times every day. This means we’re getting food ready to eat 3 times every day. That’s 3 opportunities for food play every day! Even if getting a meal ready means picking it up at a restaurant and putting it on plates at home, those are 2 steps before sitting down where the senses can get a lot of information about what’s for dinner before kids are asked to, ‘just try it.’
Some activities seem pointless when done just for their own sake. We’ve all heard someone say, “I love to run in sports because I’m running after a ball, but I hate to just run around the track–I don’t see the point!’ Touching food can be like that. If you ask a child to touch carrots or interact with them, they may give you a funny look, like ‘why would I want to do that?’ But if you ask them to put the carrots in a bowl and bring it to you, they may be hesitant about touching the carrots, but now there’s a point to touching them. It’s a means to an end, a problem to solve, possibly even quite a challenge. They are going to have to touch those carrots to get them into that bowl…
We never know exactly how kids are going to react to interacting with foods during food prep. They may surprise you by taking a taste right away or they may very reluctantly figure out how to get the carrots in the bowl without touching a single one. But all of these steps to getting food ready present opportunities to build a comfort level around foods that are part of kids everyday experiences. And that comfort level is the foundation for adventurous eating!
- Buy the food.
This is the first step to preparing all meals. We’re all involved in buying food in some way almost every day, if not every day. This could mean going to the grocery store, picking up takeout or grabbing a snack on the go. If possible, get kids involved in these choices. Talk to them about why you pick different foods. Is it because of how they taste, how they feel, how they look, what they do for your body?
2. Take food out of packages.
Whether you’re opening a granola bar, yogurt or pizza box or opening packages of ingredients to get cooking, the act of opening the package and taking out the food is an amazing opportunity to smell, taste and feel foods without the pressure of your child being expected to put the food near her mouth.
Encourage your child to open the package herself and, if she needs help starting it, try just opening it a little bit so she can finish it. She may touch the food in the process and there’s also a big confidence boost when we do something for ourselves. We want kids, especially hesitant eaters, to gain confidence around their skills with food and this is a great place to start!
This is the perfect kitchen task for kids who love water play! Set up your child with a bowl of water (maybe on a towel, if they really love water play) and a pile of veggies you need washed. Washing the veggies while you do other things will give your child time to touch and explore the veggies they’ll see later at dinner. This may be a great time to talk about all the different veggies, or it may be best as quiet exploration time. If it becomes a regular part of the routine, there’ll be plenty of time for both!
4. Measure and dump.
Measuring out ingredients and dumping them into a recipe is a really fun part of meal prep where kids can learn a lot of information about the foods they’re helping prepare. It can also be a great way to practice utensil skills!
If your food prep is more about take-out, see if your child can help put the prepared meals into serving bowls. Ripping up lettuce for a salad (or a food play salad man) is also a really fun way to explore lettuce and fill up a bowl for dinner. What do you measure out or what bowls do you fill for dinner and how could your child help?
5. Scoop and serve.
When kids scoop a serving of food, they learn about it’s texture, it’s smell, how heavy it is, and it’s temperature. They’re also doing something all by themselves at a meal and that can boost confidence! Try putting a big and little serving spoon (like a teaspoon) in dishes so kids can choose if they want to serve themselves a little or a lot!
However you get your kids involved in your family’s food prep, enjoy and happy food play! 🙂