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10 Top Tips for Food Play

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Has anyone recommended Food Play for your child? No clue where to start?

Food play is often recommend to parents of fussy, resistant and aversive feeders as a way to increase exposure to new foods. Sounds simple right? Well, food play can actually be quite complex and there are many things to consider. We have written our 10 Top Tips for Food Play, to help you get off to the right start.

1. Food play should be done away from mealtimes

Your child will get the most out of food play when it is done away from mealtimes. This is because the goal of food play is to explore, play, learn and get familiar with foods. When we are at mealtimes together, the goal is to eat, nourish and socialise. Keeping mealtimes and food play separate will help you to keep these goals in mind and to reduce any worry that your child isn't eating very much during food play.

2. Prepare for mess

Food play is going to get messy, unfortunately there are no two ways about it. If you prepare for the mess beforehand, you will find that it is much less overwhelming (and less cleaning up). Think about having splash mats and wipeable tables. You can also have food play outside when the weather is good or even in the bath / shower!

Pro tip: Choose splash mats and tables that are solid, bland colours (like this one). This will stop your child getting distracted by all the fun patterns and help them focus on the food.

3. Get positioning right

Positioning can play a very big role in how easy or difficult it might be for your child to eat. The most important is that your child's hips and trunk are stable as these can affect the shoulders, head and jaw. If they are sitting in a chair, make sure that they can rest their backs, have foot support (their feet aren't dangling) and the table is at the height between their chest and navel. Our favourite chair is the Tripp Trapp Chair. If they are on the floor, think about being near a wall to lean against, if needed.

4. Figure out your child's 'safe foods'

Safe foods are foods that you know your child will always eat. Keep a list of your child's safe foods and rotate them during your food play sessions. Always have at least one safe food during food play so that your child can feel a sense of success and security.

5. Choose your foods carefully

Some foods are easier to eat than others. Although every child is different, some general guidance is that dry foods are easier then wet foods and white, beige and brown foods are easier than coloured foods. Always use a combination of your child's easy foods and difficult foods during food play!

6. Always have your own food

Always have enough food for both you and your child to have your own items. This means if you are playing with carrots, have two carrots: one for you and one for your child. This will allow them to copy how you play with the foods with less pressure.

7. Understand the Steps to Eating

Before your child can put foods into their mouth, they need to go through some other steps. The further away the food is from their mouth, the easier it will be for them to play with. For example, an easy step would be using toys to touch the foods, playing with foods in bags or tupperwares or using gloves to create a barrier between their hands and the food. More difficult steps would be touching it with their hands, arms, chest, shoulders, head, face, lips and finally their tongue (in order from easy to difficult). The most difficult step would be putting the food into their mouth. Your child may be at different steps with different foods. Be aware of these steps when playing with your child.

8. Read your child's body language

This will help you to understand if you need to make the play easier or more difficult (as per tip 7). If your child is showing stress signs, you will need to make the play easier. Some examples stress signs are wiping hands, your child's body becoming tense, running or turning away, grimacing, closing their eyes, gagging or retching, turning their heads away or throwing foods.

9. Watch your words

How you speak can make a big impact on your child's exploration with food. Stay away from words such as yummy and yucky and rather use words to describe the different sensory aspects of food: sight (colour, shape, size), touch (bumpy, rough, smooth), smell (big, medium or small), taste (big, medium or small; sweet, earthy, tangy etc.)

10. Make it FUN!

Get creative and have some fun, because really that's what food play is all about!

Food play; fussy eater; ARFID; fun with food

What are your top tips for food play?

If you would like further support with your child's feeding, contact us to book an appointment.

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