An excellent way to encourage food exploration and introduction to new foods in a more relaxed environment is through toys! Mealtimes can be stressful for children with feeding difficulties and exploring food through play with toys and games can be both fun and effective. There are varieties of toys and games to play while also exposing children to novel foods. An example is playing ‘store.’ Help your child set-up a pretend grocery store with a variety of play (or real) foods and allow them to ‘shop’ while you are the cashier. Allow them to fill their grocery basket (you can use a bucket, a child sized grocery cart or even a cardboard box) with food items. Talk about the different foods needed to make new recipes, make pretend shopping lists together. This allows them to choose different foods that they may not necessarily try during mealtimes, but engage in play with novel foods without the expectation of actually eating the novel food.
Another fun activity is to play restaurant with your child. Take turns being a chef and a customer in a restaurant (you can even make fun, silly names for your ‘restaurant’). Let your child ‘take your order and prepare the food’ while you wait at the table. Melissa & Doug brand toys have developed a variety of different felt food kits, including a felt pizza kit with all the toppings, a sandwich set with a variety of meats, veggies and breads and a taco and burrito set. This is also an excellent opportunity to address categories of different food groups, following directions and identifying colors, shapes and sizes!
Have fun playing, and eating!