Negative memories or associations with smells or tastes can keep us from trying foods and make us immediately say “I don’t like it.” The way to reverse that instinct (and it is a hard-wired instinct that helps to keep our bodies safe) is to create positive memories and associations with foods.
We create positive memories during positive play, when we’re having fun, feeling calm, relaxed and joyful, and we try new things when we’re curious rather than fearful. The point of this kind of positive play is to gain a comfort level with foods on different sensory levels and to connect the sensations of foods to positive feelings.
Below are 4 ways to create positive memories with food play to help kids try new foods. Enjoy!
1. Pretend with food using your child’s favorite interests.
Food play is like any other kind of play, just with food. And you can create positive experiences with food by linking it to interests and activities your child already loves and enjoys.
If she loves cars, pretend with her food as the cars. Green beans could be really skinny cars, chicken nuggets could be sports cars, other foods could be trucks etc. Or make foods into a picture of a car. Get as intricate as your child wants to get with the picture.
If your child loves planes, make the play about planes. If he loves trains, make the play about trains. If he loves tea parties, have a tea party. You get the idea.
2. Use positive language.
When someone uses positive words to describe something, we gravitate towards it. We want to try it too. We start to think about it as beautiful, cool, fun or silly, too. So, if you want your kids to think positively about food. Talk about it positively in front of them.
If they say ‘Eeew, I don’t like that,’ or ‘That looks yucky,’ you don’t need to change what they said, but you can respond with something positive like, ‘I think it looks delicious,’ or ‘I love the color of those carrots. I think they’re beautiful!’
The more they hear those positive phrases from you, the more likely they’ll be to start using them themselves. Because, let’s face it, kids really do repeat what we say. So, let’s make it positive!
3. Get Curious.
Meeting challenges and new experiences with curiosity will foster learning and exploration. When we’re curious we’re not afraid. We’re moving forward and exploring rather than shrinking or holding back. So get curious and make “I don’t know, let’s find out,’ your mantra for food play!
If your child asks a question about a food like ‘what’s in there?’ we can say, “I don’t know, let’s find out!” This can be the answer to any question they ask. Then get excited, get curious and go on the quest to find out with them.
If they ask where a food comes from or how it grows. You can explain it, if it helps move along the food play and they seem interested in touching and playing with a food or, if they seem more hesitant, you could say, “I don’t know, let’s find out,” and find a youtube video or a book about how the food grows.
4. No pressure.
Pressure for a specific outcome can create anxiety. When exploring foods, we want to move up the steps of sensory comfort from interacting with a food to tasting it, but we want to make it fun and exciting rather than putting pressure on kids to get to the next step.
So, meet your child where she is. play, explore, get curious and have fun learning about foods to create the positive experiences that will form a strong foundation for adventurous eating!
Happy food play!