Hands-on Food Education: Why It’s Okay to Let Children Play with Their Food

Hands-on Food Education: Why It’s Okay to Let Children Play with Their Food

As the kid is playing with the food, they are learning in an active way about how things are working / Photo by Michael Schneidmiller via Shutterstock

 

Toddlers are at an age when they want to communicate, navigate their environment, and control a few areas of their lives despite not having much control over it. One of the first things that they will have to master is eating. While they can have limited power over it because parents are the ones preparing their food, many kids express their independence by choosing whether to eat or not. This is why some are considered picky eaters. Parents may even see them get messy as they eat. But did you know that it is actually okay to let kids play with their foods?

 

Playing with food: why it’s okay for kids to do so

Melbourne-based children nutritionist Simone Emery said via world news provider Newshub that allowing kids to play with their food will actually promote to them a positive relationship with food and will help overcome picky eating habits.  She said that as the kid is playing with the food, they are learning in an active way about how things are working and about the world as a whole. Their form of play is even important in the early stage of their development.

For example, children will learn how food appears like, feels like, and smells like. This allows them to use their senses. By playing with the food on their table, they can also develop their motor skills, such as when they pick up, spin, slide, move, or push a portion of food and do it the way they wanted to. A motor skill is an action that involves the kid to use their muscles. 

 

What the food specialist says

Food specialist Emery, who relates to the daily grind of preparing foods for kids because she has two children of her own, also pointed out that kids can learn how foods are interacting together when they are playing. They can learn this by scooping foods, layering them, dipping with each other, or mixing them. Over time, they will form ideas of their own about eating. At the same time, their language skills are improved because they can use sensory words like “cold” and “crunch.”

Emery believed that once kids are given many "touch and play" opportunities with their foods, it does not create pressure that they should eat it but are instead actively learning from the experience. With her experience working as part of a group of health experts to overcome picky eating, she said food play will help boost the kid’s confidence and will improve their attitude toward the said nourishment. This is because while the food does not reach their stomach yet, kids are already learning so much about it by playing and touching them first.

Food play will help boost the kid’s confidence and will improve their attitude toward the said nourishment / Photo by FamVeld via Shutterstock

 

Being messy is a part of learning

Emery considered being messy when eating as a part of children’s learning. What parents can do is to have some preemptive methods to handle the cleaning. For example, they don’t have to prepare the food exactly at the family’s meal table. It can be in the laundry or outdoor area. They can likewise use a sensory messy mat that is suitable for the little ones. 

As much as possible, parents are likewise encouraged to take part in the activity and introduce sensory-based language or words that will help the kid to feel at ease with the play activity. One example of food play would be allowing the child to squish the soft pumpkin that is sliced in cubes. The children nutritionist added that food play doesn’t necessarily have to be a complicated process. Parents can just come up with their ideas and make sure to introduce words, including drawing around, sorting, squishing, mixing, scooping, building, painting, knocking down, and threading.

 

Showing kids that food is not threatening but fun

The sensory activity will help kids and babies feel that food is not threatening but a fun experience. On the other hand, parents making a “big deal” about the mess that their kids have created will make them think that food is not really fun. Just consider a pressure-free method to help boost the kids' food confidence and feeding skills.

In 2014, a study published in the Developmental Science journal also revealed that messy eaters may be faster and better learners as they grow compared to their peers. The research team from the University of Iowa noted that kids who got their hands dirty by messing and playing with every food substance were able to associate the experience with words. It also helped them recognize solid objects because of their unchanging shape and size. When kids are placed in a high seat or chair, it moreover assists the process of learning because they understand the substance better compared to kids who were just seated at the table. 

On the other hand, Parents magazine recommends to mess-proof the kid’s dining area or to make the place mess-friendly. Parents should also stay calm rather than get angry or frustrated to help manage food throwing from the toddler.