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Feeding for Picky Eaters

Sensory play: Sensory play is a type of play that allows children to explore using their senses and is beneficial for various aspects of development, including feeding! Providing your picky eater opportunities to engage in sensory play may reflect and ease the transition into playing with foods.

  • DIY sensory bag and sensory bin.

  • Finger painting (paint, puree, pudding, slime).

  • Make slime, sand, Play-Doh!

Play with food!: Playing with food may sound counterintuitive but it’s quite the opposite! Playing with food is a crucial step in helping children become more familiar with unfamiliar food and the different properties (e.g., color, texture, temperature, size etc.) Playing with the food sheds some of the pressure the child may feel when faced with eating and provides a fun opportunity to learn and explore.

  • Place puree or spreads on a plate and allow your child to draw using puree or spread (peanut butter, yogurt, sun butter, smashed avocado etc.).

  • Sword fight with pretzel sticks.

  • Put peas in a zip-lock and try to pop the veggie.

  • See who can squish the most grapes before the timer goes off.

  • Use food coloring to create rainbow noodles.

Avoiding saying, “taste it”: There are several fun and motivating ways to encourage your child to explore foods without adding the pressure of, “taste it”! Instead of asking the child to taste the food, encourage your child to explore the food using their senses!

  • “The watermelon is red and juicy! Do you see the black seeds?”

  • “I wonder if the watermelon is cold. How do you think it will feel?”

  • “It smells so sweet! What do you think it smells like?”

  • “I’m going to kiss the watermelon. When you are ready, you can kiss the watermelon too!”

For many picky eaters, eating can be stressful and may create an overwhelming experience. Take some of the pressure off by encouraging exploration of the food instead of jumping to, “taste it!”. Exploration of foods can be accomplished using a hierarchy of eating that includes:

  • Touch

  • Smell

  • Kiss

  • Lick

  • Bite

  • Chew

  • Swallow


Mealtimehostage. (2013, March 27). Redefine “try it.” Mealtime Hostage.

Potock, M. (2014, September 25). You want my kid to play in food? seriously? - @asha. ASHA Wire.

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