I have been working on this post for months and never managed to get it as “finished” as I hoped. Such is life with 2 kids… here is what I have so far (with a few less photos than I originally intended)…
I remember reading very early on how important positive interactions with food are for a young child. How we approach and interact with food as an infant and toddler can have lasting effects through adulthood. As we started experimenting with solid foods with Henry, and quickly learned that this might not go as planned… we started looking for other ways to integrate foods into our lives.
With this in mind… we play!
We aim to get dirt… messy… slimy… covered in food!
Since Henry can’t interact with foods as many toddlers do – by eating them with his mouth – we interact with foods in other ways. I’m sure many parents would cringe to hear that we purposely “waste” food… but I don’t see it as a waste. I see it as a crucial step in the process of my child being and staying comfortable with foods and learning how to eat with his mouth.
I’m the one who cringes when I hear other parents saying things like…
- “don’t play with your food”
- “stop playing with your food and eat it”
- “don’t touch that unless you’re going to eat”
And if Henry has heard too, then I whisper in his ear that other families have different rules about food that we do. At our house, playing with and touching our food is a wonderful thing! You are more than welcome to touch it and then decide not eat it.
So… to this end, we try to play food related activities on a regular basis. Some are old faves and other may be new. I’ve included a list of the ones I can think of, and will add more as they come up. If you have an suggestion for a food-related activity, I’d love to hear about it!
This one came from Beth, the facilitator at our local Strong Start centre. She always amazes me with inventive ideas, and I loved this one. Instead of an indoor sandbox, she used assorted beans one day. Easier clean up… fun noises… lots of colours and textures… great for fine motor skills… easily reused… what could be better! And Henry still likes playing with it a year later. I keep ours in a clear plastic container – an “under the bed” style – and it is stored under a chair in our family food. I’ve got a metal bowl, spoons, small plastic cups, mini whisks, assorted measuring spoons, some wooden salad tongs and anything else that looks fun. For beans, I shopped the bulk department and got kidney, black, and soya beans, plus some lentils and chickpeas. Basically… I chose based on price, colour, and size.
It’s super easy to clean up afterwards with a broom or small vacuum and most of the beans from the floor can be put back into the bin (unless they got wet or there was a lot of cat hair on the floor that day!). Most importantly, Henry quickly learned all the food names so when we put them into his blended food… he recognizes them, is excited to add them in, and requested them by name.
While perhaps not a “game” per se, Henry loves our food pictures and still interacts with them and uses them to request things to eat or drink. Our OT, Amina, suggested this one quite some time ago when Henry wasn’t talking yet. I cut & pasted images from the internet, sorting them into different food groups. My goal was to use foods that we commonly have in our home and ones that he will see at dinner, or may be put into his blended food. I ended up with 3 pages of images, and he quickly learned all of them. He still gets a kick out of the fact there are “peas” and “chick peas” and “egg” and “eggplant”… and that they all look very different! The most commonly requested item is, of course, chocolate milk!
Henry has a whole range of play food, both a soft-cloth style from when he was younger (from IKEA) and the more typical hard-plastic type. To this I’ve also added some empty containers, like cream cheese, yogurt, etc. He’s often loading up his shopping bag and requesting more foods from our pantry cupboards, so he can carry them around the house. He’s not quite old enough to be into “pretend play” yet… so we’re not at the stage for pretend cooking and such, but I can see it just beginning. I’m looking for a small play kitchen for his playroom… if anyone knows of a good one, I’d love to hear it!
This is new for Christmas this year (thanks Grandma!). Certainly not a new idea… I knew I wanted to get Henry a play kitchen as soon as he was old enough to enjoy it. So once he started playing with the set at playgroup, I started looking for one for our home. We decided upon the Ikea kitchen because of it’s compact design, small size, realistic look and great accessories. It was a bit pricey, but I decided to go with this instead of a second hand model so that I could be sure it would for Henry. And I love the built in microwave, baking supplies and pots and pans. Grandma also got some extra play food to go with it… so we can eat to our hearts content!
I remember doing stamping as a kid, but hadn’t tried it with Henry until we went to the Burnaby Rhodo festival earlier this year. One of the activities was stamping with food and leaves, and the images are really cool. It took Henry a bit to get the hang of it, but I think he enjoyed it. A few weeks later we did stamping at playgroup… not with food mind you, but he was really into it. I think this is an activity that he’ll enjoy more when he’s a bit older (and stamp supplies are now on our Christmas wish lists!).
I’d have a garden regardless of whether Henry had eating challenges or not… but I love seeing how much he loves being out in the dirt and “helping” with the fruits and veggies. I think gardening – whether it be growing a tomato plant or some herbs in a few pots on a balcony – or something larger, it a wonderful way to introduce kids to where food comes from and how it is grown. As soon as we moved into our new place last year I systematically began digging up the grass… and Henry was right beside me the whole time with his little shovel and bucket! Now he can name just about all the plants, even before the actual veggies have started to form. He knows what they will become and recognizes them in the store and in our fridge. He loves helping to pick the veggies for our dinner salad each evening, and then washing them in the sink. This year we have a whole range of things in our little garden patches: lettuces, swish chard, beets, green onions, spinach, carrots, peas, beans, broccolli, chauliflower, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, plumes, apples, about 10 different herbs, zuccinni, tomotoes.
Some are thriving, others are suffering with all the rain. We talk about what it takes for plants to grow big and healthy… which segways beautifully into what it takes for people to grow up big and healthy! I have no idea if Henry will one day be a “picky eater”… but I’m sure helping to grow broccolli can’t hurt!
This one started rather unexpectedly from an overturned bowl of yogurt one afternoon. Instead of just cleaning it up and going on with our day… we painted! We used every utensil type implement we could find… including our hands and fingers… and created a masterpiece.
Then… to add to our artistic glory… we added ketchup!
Eating in the backyard – a favourite summertime activity!
We love eating outside, not just for the lovely weather, but because we can experiment with foods even more outside. Gone are the worries of messy floors, walls or chairs! Sometimes we’re at tables, other times on our picnic blanket.. but where ever we are, we’ll be enjoying a good meal.
This Halloween Henry was right into cleaning out the pumpkins. I’m not sure if Shawn ever convinced him to actually touch the inside of the pumpkin, but he was right there helping with the “tools”. We try to get him to feel as much as he is willing, but he still is a bit aversive to new textures and foods he is unfamiliar with. This is typical of lots of toddlers, but I still think more so with Henry. However he is getting so much better than he used to be!
Easter & Other Holidays
Any chance we have, we incorporate food into family celebrations. This is hard as lets face it… just about any North American holidays is synonymous with food! Here’s an example of our Easter treasure hint.
Henry loves to bake… we make cookies, pies and bread-machine bread most often. He has his own apron (thanks to Grandma Gail) and stands on a kitchen chair at the counter to help. Here he is trying out the rolling pin. The only problem… someone has to eat the fruits of our labour!
I think I may have had more fun than Henry with this one! Reminds me of some corporate training group activities I’ve done in the past. It’s great for sorting by colour, size (depending on your choice of marshmallows), fine motor skills, and what kid doesn’t love building thing! Plus, we practiced munching the marshmallows with the front of our teeth and on both sides of our mouths! What fun :).
Cutting & pasting food photos
We often read the newspaper together, and Henry loves to “read” the flyers. Since we were practicing with scissors, we cut out food pictures that looked “interesting” (Henry got to choose, and he told me some great stories about why he choose some pictures), then we glued them onto paper. He started cutting, then I finished when he got tired. Lots of fun!