Food Exploration for Children
Yummy sensory opportunities for children to explore the tastes and textures of food.
Exploring foods provides young children myriad opportunities to get messy and experience delicious and colorful sensory play! Paige, one of our deeply trained pediatric occupational therapists, shares some of her favorite summer food sensory activities for you to try at home with your kiddos.
Containers of food for “musical containers“.
To target the auditory, olfactory, visual, and tactile systems play a game called, “musical containers.” Fill various size containers with various foods with unique sensory attributes. Cereal or pretzels will make lots of noise when the container is shaken. Orange slices will tantalize the olfactory system. M&M’s or Skittles will literally be eye candy as a child’s visual system is delighted by all the bright colors.
After you have filled various containers, pass them around the table or back and forth, playing music your child enjoys. Stop the music, then open the containers to look, smell, and touch! The benefits of this activity include developing your child’s impulse control (waiting until the music stops to open the containers and to stop passing when the music is paused). Your child’s auditory system is challenged by having to focus on listening to know when the music has stopped. They will learn to filter out distractions in his/her environment to focus on the activity. The different food items give your child a chance to explore his or her sensory systems, talk about those systems, and label how he feels about each of the sensory experiences. All processes which are crucial for development.
Changing the shape of food for fun messy play.
This next activity suggestion helps to develop your child’s motor skills and encourages messy tactile play. Gather various food in the house in which the form of the food can be changed. For example, you can chop up zucchini, you can slice apples, you can peel an orange, you can sift your hands through flour; you can place raspberries on each of your fingers. By facilitating your child’s exploration of food, he or she is gaining more comfort, which in turn helps children who are picky eaters due to sensory challenges and/or tactile sensitivity. By utilizing various tools/body parts to alter the form of the food (fingers, knife, fork, food hammer etc.), you are facilitating your child’s development of his/her fine motor skills, and hand dexterity – skills necessary to develop age appropriate self-care skills and be successful in the classroom setting as well!
Categorizing food for academic based learning
The following food activity is academic based and helps your child learn. It is recommended you choose a variety of food items that can then be categorized. Some categories you can choose include sorting by color, shape, size, attributes.
For example, peaches, apples, and bananas are all fruit. Tomatoes, apples, ketchup, and pasta sauce are all red. You can also facilitate your child’s vocabulary development by having him or her practice describing flavors during mealtimes/snack time. For example, this piece of broccoli is crunchy; this apple is sweet; this sweet potato is mushy and sweet.
Take a field trip and check out your local farmers market
When your child is involved in picking out the food he or she wants to try, he or she may be more excited about trying the food, especially if your child is a picky eater. Children will enjoy meeting the farmers and learning about where the food they eat comes from.
Resources for parents:
“The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear” – the playful account of two animal’s interactions surrounding their strong desire to eat delicious strawberries.