Contributed by The Family Dinner Project Team
Playing with food is fun! More importantly, it also helps kids become more comfortable with new foods, even if they don’t taste them right away. Parents often try to prevent sensory play with foods, especially messy items, because of the clean-up involved — but letting kids explore is good for their development!
You can channel the need for play into activities like food collages at mealtime. But you can also set up some good old-fashioned sensory play with food at other times, and give kids the freedom to explore. These ideas for a food-based sensory center are good for young children and kids who need more tactile exposure to foods to help with feeding challenges.
- Letters and Numbers. Fill a large rimmed cookie sheet or tray with a thick, smearable food. Pudding, yogurt, applesauce, and mashed potatoes all work well. Have your child experiment with tracing letters and numbers into the food using their fingers. They can smear to “erase” and try again! For a dry sensory experience, you could try the same game, but with flour or cornmeal for tracing.
- Map Maker. Starting again with a tray of smearable food, work with your child to gather small toys and vehicles that can fit inside the tray. Build a “map” together, then use the vehicles to drive along different routes. (“This is our house, and that is the store. Let’s drive the truck to the store!” “The farmer needs to milk his cows. Let’s drive the tractor from the barn to the cow!”)
- Buried Treasure. Fill a bowl or deep tray with food. For dry sensory play, you could use rice or beans. For messier tactile play, use pudding, yogurt, or applesauce as outlined above. Hide small objects like little toys or coins inside the food and have the child use their hands to dig for the objects.
- Pasta Picasso. Cook and cool some spaghetti or other long pasta shape. Let kids make pasta “artwork” or write messages by bending and twisting the cooked pasta into shapes.