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Why we should let our kids get messy with food

We hear the term let them “explore” food often in children’s nutrition and with good reason.  Research suggests that children are more willing to try food that they have been exposed to over non-exposed food.

When I talk about exposure, I’m not just talking about presenting a food during set meals, we also want to expose fruits and vegetables in a fun and playful way.  I specify fruits and vegetables because this is what most parents of fussy eaters want to get their kids to eat more of.

Some fun ways to explore fruits and vegetables could be through cooking, messy food play and gardening. We want our kids to get hands on and messy!

The more familiar the brain becomes with the sensory aspects of the food in a positive approach, the more likely the brain will accept it.  A UK study found that when children took part in a sensory play activity with real fruits and vegetables, they were more likely to taste the fruits and vegetables when at home. Link to study.

Some ideas on how to increase exposure include….

Messy food play:

You’ll be able to find lots of ideas on Pinterest, but to get you started here are a few:

Painting with veggies

Use the veggie scraps that you have left at the bottom of the salad tray and let your child explore the touch and get messy with some new veggies.

Dinosaurs eating trees

Let you child have fun feeding broccoli “trees” to the dinosaurs. You could incorporate this with some scented play dough (or plain play dough is fine). You don’t need to stick to just broccoli either, use different fruits and veggies that you have at home.


Getting creative with veggies at mealtimes 

We don’t need to be overly extravagant here, make a house, train tracks, a happy face with peas – the idea isn’t to have them eat it (of course if they do, that’s great). We want them to get that positive exposure, so always keep it a happy experience.


Try planting your own herbs, fruits and veggies.  Get your kids involved in the whole process! It’s such a great learning activity too. Your child will have a great sense of pride when they can see what they have been able to produce.


Let your kids help cook

Try and pick a day when you know you’re not rushing to get dinner on the table. If your child is a bit younger you could simply let them wash the veggies, pass you the ingredients or place veggies and the rest of the meal onto their plate – talk about the sensory properties of the food whilst doing this. What colour is it? What does it feel like?  If they are a bit older you could give them a more competent task such as cutting the veggies (safely of course).


I hope you find these tips helpful and remember, have fun with it!


Need more help? 

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed with your child’d fussy eating, contact Nutritious Kids for more information.


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