Food Play and Why it is Important

Food Play Ideas: noughts and crosses using cucumber and carrot slices

Thank you to our guest author, Judith Yeabsley, The Confident Eater

Allowing our child food play opportunities can seem counter to a culture that teaches us manners at the table. It can also conjure up nightmares thinking of mess. Luckily, Mud Mates has some great solutions for that. 😉

However, food play is an important part of learning to eat. Babies smoosh food on their trays, wipe it in their hair and rub it into their faces for very good reason. They are discovering what it feels, smells, sounds, and tastes like.

Feeding experts agree that tactile experiences with food is important. Even if your child is older and they have missed this stage, it is helpful for more competent eaters to revisit – in an age-appropriate way.

A good way to think about this for parents is: if we have a child that is uncomfortable even picking a food up, realistically will they be willing to eat it?

If that food becomes less and less bothersome in the hands, it becomes more likely to be eaten.

So, let’s seek out opportunities for our child to interact with foods. The more often this happens, the more of a comfort level we can help them build and the more likely a variety of foods will be eaten.

How to Support Food Play

  1. Developmental activity – food play is a great way to encourage young children to become more comfortable around foods and develop fine motor skills.
  2. Interaction – the more often a child can have hands on contact, the more comfortable they become with the food, and the more likely to eat it. Interaction can be done both:A) Away from the table – gardening, shopping, prepping food, cooking, play.
    B) At the table.

Making time for food play can, over time, make a big difference for a child who is not super comfortable around food.

Food play ideas

All play is designed to build confidence but needs to be comfortable.

Food play ideas away from the table:

  1. Sorting or categorizing foods. Separating foods into colours, shapes, textures, or other categories.
  2. Building towers. Many foods can be stacked.
  3. Food art. No perfection needed.
  4. Pasta/rice/bean bins. Using dried foods to play in.
  5. Cooked food bins. Cooked pasta or rice to fill trucks, make mini-sandcastles etc.
  6. Sauces/purees. Can be used for painting or pictures.
  7. Circles of capsicum or pasta on a string for necklaces, rings, or bracelets.
  8. Touching, squishing, mashing, manipulation of foods.
  9. Using food as part of games, like noughts and crosses/Tic Tac Toe.

Food play ideas for kids: food sorted by colour and playing noughts and crosses with vegetable slices

Food play in the kitchen:

  1. Washing foods. Use a squirty bottle!
  2. Chopping/ripping/grating.
  3. Blending/grinding/bashing.
  4. Dipping meats or vegetables into coatings.
  5. Dipping fruit or nuts in chocolate sauce, bread into cheese sauce, noodles into soy or even meat into ketchup.
  6. Making popsicles.
  7. Fruit ‘pops’. Dipping fruit into sauce or yoghurt and then sprinkles, nuts or choc pieces, for example.
  8. Either bread dough or using pastry or biscuit dough to create shapes or new foods.
  9. Any cooking is positive and increases interaction.
  10. Herbs and spices. Smelling them, crushing, grinding, or chopping them.

Food play ideas for children: dipping food in chocolate and cutting shapes out of cookie dough

Food play ideas at the table:

  1. Imaginative play. For younger children turning food into planes, trains, or dancers.
  2. For less food anxious children, playing fun games where we guess what something is from its smell or how many bites it will take dad to eat a giant piece of ….
  3. What colour is the xyz, for example. For younger children that may be red or green, for older children scarlet or olive.

Fun food play builds comfort and long-term encourages better eating!


Judith, MA Cantab (Cambridge University), Post Grad Dip Psychology (Massey University), is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.

She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.

Learn more about Judith here.



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