As a feeding therapist, I encourage parents to allow kids to play with food in order to learn about different foods (and eventually eat it!). However, parents are usually reluctant to incorporate food-based sensory play until I explain what it is and what it does. Learn more about this technique and try out some of my Halloween food play ideas for picky eaters!
What is food-based sensory play? Food-based sensory play is when you use food (different textures, temperatures, smells, etc.) during play to improve a child’s fine motor, gross motor, cognitive, speech, language, play and sensory development. This type of play can really encourage children who are hesitant about foods to expand their food repertoire!
Benefits of Food-based Sensory Play: Once parents see the benefits of me using small amounts of food for sensory play they are more comfortable with doing it at home. In my experience, when children are allowed to have fun exploring the scents, textures, sounds, and visual aspects of food, they quickly become willing to explore the taste of it too! I have had many children classified as ‘picky eaters’ eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and protein during food sensory play!
Halloween Food-based Sensory Play: Most of my feeding success stories start by going from an unhealthy food to a healthy one with the help of sensory play. This technique can be super fun during the holidays, especially Halloween. Starting with Halloween candy, like a Strawberry Starburst for example, can get me to a strawberry candy roll up, then to a fruit roll up, then to an organic fruit leather and finally to a strawberry! All by playing and exploring new foods. Here are some Halloween food play ideas to help the picky eaters in your life.
- Magic Potions: Several of my clients are into all things Harry Potter. With this theme in mind, I made ‘potions’ (different smoothies, green juices and protein drinks) for them to try. You can quickly take your picky drinker to the next level when you both take sips of Poly-Juice, Unicorn Blood, Skele-Grow or Gillyweed! It’s amazing how many of my picky kiddos are willing to drink several ounces in order to play.
- Marshmallow Fluff: I love introducing marshmallow fluff in feeding therapy, especially during Halloween. Place a yummy glob of the fluff on the mat and have your kids use their fingers to mold the marshmallow cream into a ghost, mummy or monster. Add some creepy candy eyes and you have a BOOtiful food-based craft!
Candy: Practicing a planned activity in advance helps children prepare
their emotions and encourages problem solving before a special event. This
technique is called pre-teaching. I encourage parents to pre-teach how to
separate candy BEFORE Halloween night, which will help prevent meltdowns during
this fun holiday!
Practicing how to separate candy is a great sensory activity and an excellent time to learn new skills. You can teach them about the rules of throwing away candy that look suspicious or unsafe. You can separate candy based on color, personal favorites or even separate a few choices that they want in their lunchbox for school. I find that having the kids choose a few pieces of candy that give them good sensory input (like chewing gum and lollipops) can really help them succeed when doing homework. Pre-teaching this skill when your children are rested and not coming down from the excitement of trick-or-treating will help them be more cooperative and calm when the candy disappears or Switch Witch comes along!
- Marshmallows: Kids love decorating marshmallows! All you need for this sensory play activity are some food-safe markers, candy eyes and the Play Mat to keep the sticky mess in one place. With a little imagination, this edible and spooky sensory activity is sure to be a hit!
- Graveyard Cake: Having a theme during sensory food play will always make it more successful. For my graveyard theme, I use the Go! Cake microwave cake mix (chocolate madness flavor), which is super easy and so tasty. To make it, just pour the Go! Cake mix it into the Happy Bowl, bake it for one minute and it’s done! Throw in some fun zombie parts, add a cookie (write R.I.P. on it with food-safe markers) and you have a perfect food play treat! Dare I say…it’s gravely delicious.
What food play activities do you have planned for this holiday? We hope you try some of our Halloween food play ideas for picky eaters! Let us know how it goes and tag us with #ezpzfun #myezpzmat #halloween.
Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Specialist for ezpz