Food play

Where children have problems moving or sitting, they might not have the same opportunities for play.

Why food play is important

Through using their hands in food play, children can become less sensitive when you try to get them to taste or accept new foods and textures.

How and when to do food play

Food play is messy! Try putting the child’s chair and tray on a square of plastic in the centre of the kitchen to help you feel less anxious about the mess.

Food play just before bath-time can also help you both relax. If your child throws things, put suckers on some of the plates to help keep them down. Or you could just put the food on the child’s tray. Some trays strap onto the chair and have compartments for food. These can be useful to encourage the hands to go further into the textures. Your occupational therapist may be able to advise you on what is available.

Dry foods to try

  • Dried pasta makes a lovely plaything
  • Breadcrumbs either soft or toasted for a rougher texture
  • Coconut flakes
  • Breakfast cereals

For children who have difficulty controlling their muscles for eating, take care if they can put small things in their mouth. Try jelly or cooked spaghetti instead.

Sticky foods

Flour mixed with a little vegetable oil and water makes a great gooey mess. This sticks to the fingers and has to be pulled off. You can colour it with food dye.

Jelly is great for plunging hands into and squeezing through fingers. Other foods you can try include:

  • baked beans
  • tinned spaghetti
  • grated carrot
  • diced fruit
  • chopped celery or cucumber
  • mashed potato, carrot or swede – these are great because you can make them smooth at first then get lumpier.

Let your child have a little food to play with while you are preparing it.

Add colour and different smells to food.

Mouth play

This helps babies and children who either under-react (under-sensitive) to touch or who over-react (over-sensitive) to touch.

If the child is under-sensitive, you can be bold from the beginning. But if the child is over-sensitive, you need to start gently but firmly and away from the mouth with face-touching games.

Try a variety of touching techniques. Some children respond badly to light touch but respond better to a gentle but firm touch. Try touching and leaving the pressure in place so the child can get used to it. 

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