Mental Health

Helping Picky Eaters with Food Play

As a pediatric dietitian and feeding expert, I know how hard it can be when you have picky eaters at home. We just want our kids to eat, meet their nutrition needs and stop being so picky when it comes to eating. So what can do to make mealtimes more enjoyable and encourage new foods? Food play! Let’s talk about helping picky eaters with food play.

Food play has gotten a bad reputation in the past.

“Don’t play with your food!”
“Use your fork and spoon!”
“Don’t spit out your food!”

I’m here to tell you that these things aren’t true.

We don’t want our child throwing food or spitting their food on their sibling, but I am here to tell you that food play should absolutely be encouraged – especially for kids that are more selective


1.  Food is a full sensory experience – we use all 5 senses to eat.  The more we can allow our children to use all of these senses, the more we can get them familiar with new foods. Eating is about touching, smelling, listening, feeling and finally – tasting our food. We eat with all of these senses, which is especially important for children learning about new foods to allow them to become more familiar with these foods.

2.  Eating is not just about trying something new, it’s about having interactions and exposures with new foods, that is what gets our kids closer to actually eating those foods. Research shows that the more we can allow our kids to interact with new foods, the more familiar they become with those foods.

3.  Actually taking a bite and eating a new food can be scary.  But touching that food, or smelling or even licking that food may not be as scary.  Encouraging these exposures have been shown to eventually getting children to actually eat new food.  Allowing kids to spit out their food can be a good thing. We are showing them it’s okay if they don’t like the food right away, and they are welcome to spit that bite onto their plate, this can help kids feel more comfortable around these new foods.

There you have it! Helping picky eaters with food play.

Want more picky eating help? Download my free guide, 4 steps to help your child try new foods for practical tips you can use today!

Check out this video for a deeper dive into food play: