Sensory Play ideas to increase exposure to regularly refused foods.
Food refusal in both babies and toddlers, whilst frustrating, is incredibly common and actually – perfectly normal. Babies are born with a preference for sweeter foods to help them seek out breastmilk, so when weaning, getting used to the bitter and more unfamiliar tastes of green vegetables is a process. At around 2 years of age, food aversion usually peaks – a behaviour routed in evolution when we had to scavenge for food – so you may find your toddler starts to refuse food they would otherwise have eaten without complaint. It’s important to recognise that this is a perfectly normal part of child development. There are a few ways you can help minimise the impact of food refusal and have this take a back seat in your baby’s weaning journey.
Understanding that food aversion is strongly rooted in a fear of the unfamiliar can help us tackle this effectively. As we discuss in our blog Sensory Food Education - building a lifelong love of healthy foods through Sensory Weaning it can take between 15-20 exposures to a new food before a child is willing to put it in their mouth to eat it. Some research suggests this figure is an underestimate and the number of exposures required is nearer 200 – but whatever the actual number, it’s important to try not to rush this process and to not become too frustrated by it.
But exposure to new foods doesn’t need to happen at mealtimes. Using food as a sensory play material can significantly reduce the expectation around it needing to be eaten. Here are some great ideas to help you use real food as part of playtime. Fruit and veg lend themselves to all sorts of sensory play. You don’t need to use our suggestions here – if your child has an aversion to a particular food - see if you can use this as an alternative to some of the suggestions given here, or drop us a message and we’ll see if we can help 😉
- Vegetable paint stamps
You can make paint stamps from any firm fruit or vegetable, such as Carrots, Potatoes, Aubergine, Celery, Courgettes, Onions, Oranges, Limes, Lemons and Apples.
Take a sharp knife and cut the vegetable or fruit in half before dipping into a tray of paint and pressing onto a piece of paper or card. You can simply leave it there – and see what shapes and textures each different food makes on the paper, or if you’re feeling particularly creative you can calve a different shape on each side.
- Edible paint
Choose a selection of brightly coloured fruit and veg to turn into tasty edible paint! You’ll need:
- Carrots for orange paint
- Parsnips for white paint
- Broccoli and/or peas for green paint
- Strawberry and/or Raspberries for red paint
Wash and peel the fruit and vegetables then cut into small pieces. Steam until very soft and then blend each colour until smooth. Add a little water to give the desired consistency and allow to cool completely before using. Your baby can finger-paint a picture directly on the highchair or Tidy Tot Sensory Tray or finger-paint onto paper or card to make pictures you can keep (for an hour or two anyway)!
Top Tip! Frozen fruit and veg is generally less expensive than fresh and work just as well – just defrost before use. If using fresh, choose fruit and veggies that are past their best (but still edible) to minimise any food waste.
- Berry Squash!
All you need is a selection of berry fruits e.g. strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry. Lay them all out on the tray in front of your baby and take turns to give them a good squash! What does each one sound like as you squash it? What do they smell like? What do they look like? What do we notice about the colour? Is the inside the same colour as the outside for example? What happens to our fingers when we squash them? Let’s lick our fingers and see what they tase like!
Buying bags of frozen fruit is cheaper then fresh. Just defrost before use. Remember that berry fruits can be a choking hazard to small babies so cut up the fruit into bite size pieces as required. For older babies and toddlers you can take this game a little further:
Game 2: Berry racing! Sort the berries into different shapes. How would you describe the shapes we are looking at? What happens when you try to push them along the tray? Do some move faster than others? Are some easier to make move than others? Why might that be? Remember that berry fruits can be a choking hazard to small babies so cut up the fruit into bite size pieces as required.
Game 3: Create a game of count and sort – can you put them into different matching groups (colour, size, shape). How many are in each group? Which group has more/less? What happens when I eat one / take one away – how many do we have then?
Jelly is a fantastic Sensory Play food, and with vegan and sugar free varieties available it’s really accessible too. You can set almost any small items into the jelly - including fruit and vegetables - so why not take something that’s regularly refused and try setting that into the Jelly and see if that can spark some interest?
These sensory weaning games and more are available as FREE downloads on our website!