Food Play


Summer is winding down and right now everyone is busy on last minute vacations, preparing for back to school, and meeting work deadlines. Currently, I am getting super excited for fall festivities that will be coming up soon.

Just to review quick to those who may have reached my blog via sharing, I am a licensed occupational therapist in New York State. I provide services to children birth to 21.

Recently, in my practice I’ve been discussing and implementing ideas and strategies with families in regards to food play.  Sooo.. Let’s talk about FOOD PLAY.

This blog post is geared towards younger kiddos but can be appropriate for any age!


What is it?:

Food play is the act of meaningful and purposeful play with food for the purpose of gaining information for our sensory systems, play skills, and learning (definition by me!)

Why is Food Play Important?:

  • Exposure to a variety of foods with different visual, textural, gustatory (smell), and auditory properties and provides them with meaningful sensory experiences
  • Can be child driven
  • Can also be parent or therapist driven to target specific skills or foods
  • Play is the is a child’s major OCCUPATION
  • Increases mindfulness of meal times
  • Decreases need for technology to engage toddlers at meal time
  • It’s FUN!eat-carrots-peas-healthy-45218

Why are Occupational Therapists concerned with food play?:

The routines, rhythms and values of your household’s food-related traditions contribute greatly to a child’s relationship with food, as well as their confidence and competence with meal time skills.”(Anna,

Occupational therapists place emphasize on developing skills and practicing skills during habits and routines that are meaningful to your daily life.

If a child is struggling with sensory issues or motor concerns, he or she may have difficulties with meal time.

Some difficulties observed during meal time but not limited to:

  • Utensil use
  • Tolerating different sensory components of foods
  • Attention and mindfulness of mealtimes
  • Oral motor control of food
  • Postural control during meal time
  • Drinking/cup skills

Why Food Play Works for a Variety of Issues!:

  • It’s fun- It’s alleviates stress from the provider and family to target specific goals by allowing the child to drive the experience exploring food, making a mess, and learning the way the learn best.
  • Practical – Everybody has to eat to meet their physical, emotional, and nutritional well-being.
  • Opportunity – Because the frequency of snacks and meals are high throughout the day and week, the opportunities for learning and therapy carry over are endless.


Establishing a Routine of Food Play:

  • Encourage or engage in food play during meals and OUTSIDE of meals
  • Consider  your goals for food play
  • Do at a time where you DO NOT feel rushed or have time constraints (sometimes clean up can take more time than the food play its self)
  • Do food play that is separate and more goal directed at a  time the child is not frustrated or tired in order to gain maximal benefits from the food play experience
  • To reduce stress of planning, use what’s already in your house. You may want to google or go on Pinterest for cute ideas but most of the time what you have already in your house will be fun and practical!

Setting up the Food Play Space for Fantastic and Stress Free Food Play:

  • Consider placing the child in a high-chair if they are a “wanderer” to prevent messy hands touching everything
  • Place food on a high chair tray, baking sheet, or aluminum or wax paper to help contain the mess for easy clean
  • Consider clothing of the child: Sometimes less is more!
  • Consider the temperature of foods and what are you trying to work on? Temperature extremes may turn children off pancake-767567_1920.jpg

Some of my go-to Food Play Toolbox Suggestions for Infants/Toddlers:

  • Dry pasta or cooked pasta sensory bins
  • Pudding or yogurt painting (coconut yogurt for those dairy free)
  • Whip cream and chocolate syrup
  • Playing with puree and soft foods such as applesauce, bananas, mashed potatoes
  • Rainbow gold fish play
  • Making food faces
  • Driving cars through food
  • Play with a variety of kitchen tools or utensils as appropriate to mix, scoop, etc
  • Stringing circle gummies or fruit loops for “food necklaces”
  • Build a tower with food
  • Incorporate figurines to pretend to feed the figurines with the food.


Overall, Food play is essential to childhood occupations and development. OT’s use food play to target specific goals during daily routines such as a meal times and therapeutically during non-meal times. Food play is essential to developing mindfulness and meaningful participation during meal times.

If you have concerns regarding your child’s feeding skills, please consult with your physician or contact me to discuss your concerns in order to implement the appropriate action and referrals to address your concerns.

For more information from the American Occupational Therapy Association regarding mealtime, visit the following link for a handout available to you here

GO HOME POINT: Let your kids play with their food. Don’t worry about the mess!



P.S I am new to creating blogs related to my occupational therapy practice and welcome any feedback. Your feedback ultimately helps me help others do what I love to do. 


Anna, Kid Play Space ” Mealtime-skills, rituals play nuturing love for food”

*All photos are considered free stock photos provided by Pexels and Pixaby






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