Many parents feel annoyed and anxious when their baby plays with food. But, what if we told you food play is actually a key part in sensory development? In fact, food play in early years actually gives children the confidence to try new foods and makes them less fussy about food choices in the future. This parental anxiety can stem from fear of mess and ruining soft furnishings, as well as worry as to why your child is playing but refusing to eat their food.
In order to understand food play and why it’s imperative to your child’s development during the weaning period, WaterWipes consulted child psychologist and food acceptance expert Dr Gillian Harris and shared their findings with us. Strikingly almost half of parents (40%) have never engaged their children in food play, so here’s why you should encourage your children to use all their senses at mealtimes.
Dr Harris explains, “Babies are highly sensitive to stimuli around them, they react to taste, smell, touch and sound. Surprisingly, sensitivity to touch has the biggest impact in the acceptance of new foods.” This goes for many new experiences with children: new things often seem alien and uncomfortable, but once these things or foods become more familiar, your baby is more likely to accept and enjoy them.
If you’re at the point of weaning your child, it’s likely you’ll been clued up on the whys and how-tos of weaning. Dr Harris recommends combining weaning and food play into your baby’s mealtime experience. For example, add a variety of textures to the menu such as rough mashed food and lumpy solids. Allow baby to hold, squeeze and squash them to increase their familiarity with the food. Dr Harris also advises giving baby a soft piece of food to hold during and outside mealtimes so they’ll get used to the look and feel of different types of food.
Food play not only benefits your baby, but can also be treated as a bonding opportunity. Food play expert Sarah Schenker has created a few games that you can play with your child, ensuring that playing with their food is controlled and not likely to end up with food all over the walls and floor! Here are a few of her food play games to try at home:
Pick out foods with a variety of different textures, such as crackers, avocado, and mushed banana. Lay them out in front of your baby and encourage them to snap and squish the foods with their hands.
Chop up small pieces of soft fruit and vegetables and hide them in a large bowl of rice pops. Encourage your baby to delve into the rice pops and search for the different shapes and textures.
Teddybear’s Tea Party
Choose five small-shaped foods, such as peas, pasta shapes, and raisins and combine them in a bowl. Next lay out three plates: one for you, one for baby, and one for teddy. Encourage your child to share out the foods onto the three plates. This is also a good lesson in learning to share too!
Shape And Colour Matching
Get hold of some edible paint and coat different shaped and textured vegetables in the paint. Allow your child to make prints on paper with the food. Experiment with different shapes such as halved apples, strawberries and kiwis.
Remember: weaning and food play is great bonding experience so don’t shy away from it, embrace it. WaterWipes representative Grainne Gallagher reminds us, “Babies benefit from being able to touch, lick and squash their foods, all taught from their best teacher – their parent.” What’re you waiting for? Grab a pack of WaterWipes to clear up afterwards, and let’s make baby’s mealtimes more fun and engaging for their senses!
Dr Gillian Harris and Sarah Schenker are working with WaterWipes to encourage parents to have fun with sensory food play during the weaning phase. For further tips and sensory food play games to try out at home visit www.waterwipes.com