Play is the Secret Ingredient for Success at Mealtime

by Naveen Agarwal

in Having Fun,Helpful Tips

This is a second post under the Carnival of Play being hosted by phdinparenting. Here are a few very simple ideas for you to try at mealtime with your little one. Feel free to share your favorite tips for trying new foods.

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Indulge their imagination

Kids have a vivid imagination! Slices of grapes or kiwi can become the eyes of a cheese monster, an almond its nose and a moon-shaped piece of strawberry its smiley face. In her guest post Help Your Child with Autism Have Fun with Food on this blog, Melissa offered another fun idea of letting your child discover her inner Van Gogh by messing around with carrot, broccoli and finger paint! Food is not just for eating, as we adults tend to focus on in our hurried lifestyle. It can also allow a child to develop a connection with many other interesting things as he makes sense of the world around him. The good thing is that fruits and vegetables come in many different shapes, sizes and colors, so the possibilities of creating interesting patterns are almost limitless. Come to think of it – Edible Arrangements has done exactly that and created a very successful business. Hmmm, I wonder if they have anything for kids!

Getting messy is not so bad

I love to watch my daughter play with strands of cooked spaghetti and get the buttery sauce all over hands! It is her favorite and she can’t wait to play (and of course eat) whenever it is on our dinner menu. My son, on the other hand, enjoys eating fruit yogurt and pudding straight out of the containers with his fingers! It is no longer a problem for me to watch him make a big mess of his hands and clothes.

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It is natural for kids to explore foods with their hands. This is how they get a feel for its texture, shape and eventually taste. Sure it is a nightmare to clean up after them, but it does get better as they acquire more skills with their hands and fingers. We have been using these oversized vinyl spill mats from One Step Ahead under their high chairs. They don’t get too sticky with spilled food and are very easy to clean. Also, getting them to wash their hands before eating is one habit you would want to develop very early on.

It’s ok to add Fruit Loops to the soup

Combination of different food items may seem “weird” to adults, but for a curious child it is all fair game. One of our recent favorite is adding fruit loops to lentil soup, which my daughter seem to enjoy a lot as she uses her spoon to fish them out one-by-one from her soup. Here are a few more:

Edamame beans and plain yogurt

Plain yogurt on macaroni ‘n cheese

Honey on macaroni ‘n cheese

Dip crackers in orange juice

Dip pieces of fried Tilapia in pudding

Drinking “shots” of orange juice from small yogurt containers

Although I am glad our twins do not try to eat the soup with their fingers, it is still weird to watch them sip from a straw!

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Pretending to be a grown-up

Sometimes we like to enjoy a glass of wine with our meal. On one of those occasions my daughter insisted to try a glass herself! It surely took us a while to figure out how to satisfy her request, but then my wife came up with a brilliant idea to offer her a glass of no-sugar added cranberry juice. It looked just like our red wine and she enjoyed it sipping from her straw! Kids love to imitate the grown ups; use it to build healthy eating habits and mealtime behaviors. Too much fruit juice, even though no-sugar added, is not good of course! But it sure is a lot of fun watching them try all sorts of grown up acts in a childlike way!

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Encourage them to invent games with food

It helps if kids can build a story around the food they are eating. Sometimes, they can come up with interesting stuff on their own. It was quite entertaining to recently watch them try to stir in milk inside their fruit yogurt container, mixing it over and over again with a spoon and singing “Bate Bate Chocolate!” Seems like they picked it up from a Dora episode and decided to make their own chocolate with milk and yogurt! We of course, joined the fun and encouraged them to continue playing as they finished it in no time!

Flexibility + patience + perseverance + fun = healthy eating habits

Just like the  secret ingredient of a great recipe, fun and play at mealtime works very well with kids as you encourage them to try a variety of new foods. We live very busy lives these days, and it is very tempting to try to get over with dinner quickly so you can wash them and tuck them into bed soon after. When we are constantly thinking of the next step, we end up getting frustrated as we try to force them to finish their food and move on. Unfortunately, kids don’t follow the clock like we do; they want to live in the moment and enjoy it at their own pace. As parents of these active toddlers, we have to be very patient, stay flexible and keep on trying new ideas to make them comfortable with these new foods. By living in the moment with them and having fun yourself, you can take the stress out from mealtime.

What are you favorite tips for fun at mealtime?

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