I love the word explore because exploring requires curiosity. When we get curious we put fear aside and approach something with a playful attitude, willing to try something new. This is exactly the attitude we want picky eaters to have when approaching new foods. We say, “I don’t know much about this food. And that’s ok. Let’s learn about it. What happens if I do this?” We start asking questions, exploring and learning!
Below are 5 ways to explore foods with kids to help them expand their diets, whether they’re just learning to eat, picky eaters or food adventurers! And you can get the FREE Comfort Level Checklist For New Foods to find the next steps to help your child taste new foods right here in the Free Resource Library!
1. Poke soft foods and make holes with a fork, utensil or straw.
Exploring a food with utensils allows kids to play with and learn about a food without having to touch it. Forks make great dot patterns and designs! If you ever make baked potatoes, you could start making it your little one’s job to poke holes in potatoes before baking them. (Cooking is such an awesome way to food play as it lets kids experience a food and then see it again with a chance to eat it!)
I love how straws make perfectly round holes. They’re great for making eyes for food faces and polka dots in foods like apple peel or avocado slices! Punching holes with straws can get a little messy because the little circles often get caught in the straw and the best way I’ve found to get them out is to blow them out…yup like an old-fashioned spit ball. So…You could make this into a game to blow them into a bowl or the sink. But it’s a good idea to have a plan so they don’t end up everywhere!
2. Scoop and pour from container to container.
The simple act of scooping and pouring teaches us a lot about new foods! It teaches us about the texture of a food and what we can expect it to feel like in our mouth. It teaches us the kind of control it takes to get this food to our mouth and it’s fun! The simple act of scooping and pouring to fill up a bowl can become a calming, repetitive game where a child can become more and more comfortable with each simple repetition. After a while, they may even be comfortable enough to start exploring with their hands, then maybe take a taste!
3. Cut food with safety scissors.
Cutting food with safety scissors allows kids the comfort of a tool to touch the food with, but they still have to touch the food to guide it through the scissors. Cutting also makes the food play into a task that isn’t just about touching food. When we ask a child to ‘do something’ with a food during food play rather than just ‘touch it’ ‘taste it’ or ‘eat it’ it can spark curiosity and take away the typical pressures of mealtimes. Once that pressure is gone, kids can start to have fun and create positive associations with foods they’re touching while they play!
Lots of foods work well for cutting activities like lettuce, bread, homemade fruit roll-ups, roll-out cookie dough or even edible play dough! Some fruits and veggies like tomatoes can get messy, but are also lots of fun to cut with scissors!
4. Tear/break foods apart with your hands.
Foods that work for cutting, like lettuce, also tear really well. You could even have your little one rip up lettuce to help make a salad for dinner as their food play. Cheese slices also offer a nice opportunity to rip a food apart. Bread slices tear nicely, too and bready foods like muffins, cookies or scones break apart and offer great opportunities for exploration. Most importantly, when we break foods apart we’re using both hands, fully feeling, exploring and learning about the food.
5. Make shapes with cookie cutters.
Cookie cutters aren’t just for cookies! You can cut a shape out of anything from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to apple slices, to watermelon! You can also pile foods up into a cookie cutter to make a cool-shaped ‘bowl’ or make a picture out of the hearts you cut out. Find more ideas on ways to use cookie cutters in this post about ways to use a heart-shaped cookie cutter!
However you choose to explore foods with your little one, I hope you stay curious and have fun! Happy food play!