Why is Playing with Food Important?

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Playing with food is an important part of child development. By playing with their food, children are learning about the world and developing a more relaxed and positive association with a variety of foods. It engages their senses and stimulates their curiosity. They can squish, squeeze, and mold food, helping to develop their fine motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination.

Playing with food also encourages creativity and imagination. Children can use food to build structures, create artwork, or even act out imaginative scenarios. This type of play fosters their cognitive development and problem-solving skills as they experiment with different ways to manipulate and interact with their food.

Furthermore, playing with food can also be a social experience. When children play with their food together, it promotes cooperation, communication, and sharing. They can engage in pretend play and take on different roles, such as a chef or serving food to their “customers.” This type of play enhances their social skills and helps them learn about the importance of sharing.

Variety is the spice of life

Children from a young age need to experience a range of textures, flavors and nutrients in their diet. Building familiarity is the first step in helping them accept a wider variety of foods in their diet. A 2002 study[1] found that children’s fruit intake is influenced by the variety and early exposure they had as babies. So, it is important to prioritize familiarity as a daily strategy to achieve dietary variety.

Little Bellies offers parents a great diversity of baby and toddler snacks to help build familiarity with food through visual, taste, contextual, and categorical familiarity.

Visual & Taste Familiarity

Children learn about food through the things we use when we eat, like bibs, spoons, and plates. They also learn by being around the dining table. As they get used to the food around them, they also get better at eating.

Children can start to build their skills and visual familiarity with a range of flavors using the Little Bellies puff snacks as each product shape comes in at least two flavor varieties. This builds on the familiarity of the shapes by providing subtle flavor variations. At 7+ months, parents can give their babies Little Bellies pick-me sticks in strawberry, sweet potato or banana flavor. At 10+ months, they can expand the repertoire with Little Bellies yoghurt pick-me sticks in berry or mango flavor.

Leveraging familiarity with the flavors, we can then begin to introduce new shapes and textures. At 10+ months, you can continue with berry and banana flavours to introduce new shapes like the Little Bellies softcorn.

To continue with the shape of the pick-me sticks, at 12+ months parents can introduce new flavors and texture variations with Little Bellies veggie tubes with a roasted carrot and white bean dip or as little croutons on a soup made with creamed corn. There are so many options!

Contextual Familiarity

To encourage children to try new foods, include them in meal preparation in a way that builds context. Do they see how food is presented? Do they see how we interact with it? Do they see what other foods it can go with? These show context. The more combinations and modelled behaviors around food they can see, the more context they build.

Categorical Familiarity

And like it or not, we all categorize things in our life, including food. We have a category for green food, a category for chewy, a category for crunchy and even a category for “I liked that last time I had it”.  So, building familiarity with a range of food group categories is important.

How do we do this? We can serve food in different ways. Crunchy Vegetables? Little Bellies veggie tubes. Easy to dissolve corn? Little Bellies sweetcorn round-a-bouts! By adding nutrients into a range of “categories” we build a bigger foundation for variety.

In order to encourage food learning, parents should offer a range of food groups, flavors and textures.  Children need a range of foods to meet their iron, calcium, vitamin, mineral and growth requirements.

The Little Bellies range of organic snacks for babies and toddlers offers delicious foods designed to team up well with fruit, vegetables and proteins for a balanced start to a lifelong feeding journey.

Playing with Food Hacks:

  1. Use Little Bellies pick-up sticks as a dipper into purees, yoghurts, smoothie bowls or soups for your little food explorer. They may find this is an easier step towards self-feeding than using a spoon. A spoon requires twisting at the wrist and more refined spatial awareness. Offering a spoon and a stick at the same time gives them options for learning self-feeding skills. And easy tastes of success!
  2. Reusing your box from Little Bellies animal crackers has countless opportunities. You can turn it into a balloon-powered car by using some lids as wheels and fixing on a balloon. Blow up the balloon, let go and watch the force of the escaping air propel the boxcar forward. Children love getting inventive!
  3. Rub your tummy to let your baby know you are full after you finished eating. This will teach them to finish eating when they feel full. Using the phrase “Are you full?” will encourage your child to listen to their body rather than phrases like “Are you done?” or “Are you finished?” These phrases are linked to time or quantity, rather than what our body says. Some days they will have an appetite much lower than on other days.
  4. Try serving Little Bellies sweet potato pick-me sticks with vegetables like peas, cucumber sticks or steamed cubes of carrot or wholegrains like Little Bellies animal crackers. This will offer a variety of food groups in the one snack opportunity and help children learn that variety is usual.  Additionally, serving different-shaped snacks helps them learn motor skill planning and adapt how they use their pincer grip on a range of textures.
  5. Offer your child a washer to clean themselves up. They will clean their own face and hands. And in turn, they will be more confident to get messy and enjoy their food experiences. This is rather than having someone else clean them up, which as you can imagine, can be frustrating. Children can independently use a washer from as young as 10 months of age with practice!
  6. We want them to learn that variety is normal. So, as they are mastering self-feeding skills, alternate flavors. Is it Little Bellies veggie tubes today? Or perhaps yoghurt mango pick-me stick? Studies show that consistently offering variety in baby food across 48 hours helps normalize it. So, try not to serve the exact same food within the same 48-hour window.  You can also add toppings, dips and accompaniments to emphasize that food variety is normal.

Enjoying play opportunities with food to encourage learning and a variety-infused diet is easy with Little Bellies!

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

[1] Skinner et al. 2002. Do Food-Related Experiences in the First 2 years of Life Predict Dietary Variety in School-Aged Children? Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 34 (6): 310-315.