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Why playing with food is a good idea, despite what your parents told you!

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Why playing with food is a good idea, despite what your parents told you!

“Why don’t you play with your food for a bit before you eat it?” We’re pretty sure that’s not something you’ve heard anyone say recently. Instead, mealtimes with toddlers (and older kids!) are more likely to feature arguments over how many vegetables your child must eat before getting dessert. You may dread the daily battle of wills with your kids over dawdling at mealtimes, playing with their food and not eating their veggies, but it turns out that there could be a simple answer to the question of how to bring up kids to eat more healthy foods. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics features a study (http://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(15)00222-1/fulltext?cc=y=) found that toddlers who play with their food develop healthier eating habits and may be less fussy about what they eat.

Benefits - toddlers who play with their food may:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Be more willing to try new foods
  • Be less picky eaters
  • Eat a more balanced diet

Beneficial for brain development

A study published in Developmental Science (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/desc.12147/abstract) found that playing with food assists in the brain development of toddlers and allows them to assimilate vocabulary related to food textures. Interacting with food in a creative way can assist your child’s ability to recognise different colours, shapes and textures. Mashing food and eating with their hands exposes kids to a range of sensory experiences. Also, playing with food makes kids curious about it and more likely to taste it and like it. Thus, by allowing and even encouraging your kids to play with their food, mealtimes can be transformed from an ordeal to an enjoyable experience that your child looks forward to.

A few guidelines for playing with food:

  • Good table manners are still a must, so make sure you gently teach this along the way.
  • Set a good example by eating plenty of the types of food you want your child to eat yourself.
  • Keep sweets and other ‘undesirable’ foods off the table completely. Once you toddler is tired of playing and gets hungry, he or she will naturally transition from playing to eating the food on the plate.

Avoiding a mess

The downside to allowing your child to play with their food is that things can get messy. While kids are very young it may be best just to bear with it, but as they get older and hard, crunchy foods no longer present a choking hazard (typically over the age of 4), you can provide your child with a wide range of healthy foods that are fun to play with and will not create a big mess, such as:

  • carrot sticks
  • cucumber rounds
  • celery ‘trees’
  • sliced starfruit
  • nartjie segments
  • dried fruit

In fact, why not get involved in the fun and games of food art? Your kids will be delighted with the adorable landscape shown above, featuring folded pancake mountains, broccoli trees, mayonnaise clouds and snowcaps and an orange round as a sun! Never mind the kids, we’d love to get our pancakes served like that!

 

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