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Parent and child with food

Play With Your Food: Sensory Activities at Mealtime

Nicole Brigham, RD

Introducing foods to your little one can be such an exciting experience! Finally, you are able to offer something along with breastmilk or formula. It’s a huge milestone and can be quite an adventure. Many moms are surprised to find that foods are important for reasons other than nutrition. Food actually provides a great way for your child to learn and explore their five senses. Sensory activities are extremely helpful for encouraging brain development, fine motor skills and language. The following sensory activities provide an easy and fun way to introduce your child to different foods, tastes, smells and textures. Another bonus: during these activities it’s perfectly okay for the kids to put the playtime materials in their mouths!

Sensory Activities in the Highchair

Introducing your baby to pureed foods is a great time for sensory play! Yes, it will be messy, but it will also be fun for your child. When feeding your baby, put a little extra pureed food on the highchair and encourage them to put their hands into it. Sometimes babies love this and really get into investigating this new substance. Other times, they may be a bit more reserved and prefer not to have their hands messy. Just like anything with baby, don’t give up after just one attempt. Work with them to demonstrate how you can pick up foods with your hand and then to move it to your mouth. This was one of my favorite activities with my son when he was starting on pureed foods, and my dogs were a big help in cleaning the floors after we were done. I would recommend doing this outside or on hard floors that are easy to clean.

Sensory Activities in the Baby Pool

When your infant is ready for a little more hands-on sensory play with foods, then moving playtime to the pool is a perfect baby activity! Use an inexpensive, plastic baby pool (or plastic table cover works well too) and add several paper plates with different edible substances on them. Place your baby in the center of the plates, and let them touch, squish, smell and taste all the foods. Some food ideas for this activity are pudding, whipped cream, cooked spaghetti noodles, Jello, marinara sauce, or applesauce. Try to use different kinds of foods with varied textures, colors and shapes.

Make a Homemade Sensory Table or Bin

Sensory tables are great for toddlers because they are off the ground and allow your child to stand while exploring. If you don’t have a sensory table, you can use a plastic storage bin which works just as well and is perfect for infants. Add uncooked oatmeal, rice, or dried beans to the bin and toss in some common kitchen items such as a slotted spoon, funnel, paper towel roll, measuring cups, straws, and anything else you think your child might enjoy playing with. Let your child pour, scoop, sift, and measure the food. To make this a little more exciting, try colored rice, mixed beans, and even pasta of different shapes and colors for a fun visual stimulation. For another fun twist, I like to add fun shapes that my son can find. For example, if we’re using uncooked oatmeal, I will hide large seashells, plastic fish, boat bath toys, and other beach themed items and encourage him to search through the oatmeal ‘sand’ to find things we might find at the beach. We also take our sensory play outside on hot days and put water in the sensory table or plastic bin for some fun wet play!

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