Mealtime and Messy Play

Written by Rhiannon Pilgrim (Director, Occupational Therapist)

When introducing foods to babies and toddlers it is important to remember that the experience is sensory, not just a means of consuming nutrition. Presenting a range of safe finger foods on your child’s high chair tray allows them to explore different textures, smells, colours and tastes.

Encourage them feel, taste, smell and play with the food to familiarise themselves with it and begin to feel comfortable with a variety of foods. Exposure to a variety of foods at this stage in your child’s development is crucial. It is helpful to use a combination of spoon fed puree foods and finger foods.

Songs and books about eating different foods, and even watching you prepare meals in a safe position, all assist with familiarising and exposing your child to a variety of sights, smells and textures as a normal part of learning about food.

Watching you eat is just as beneficial. You can exaggerate your chewing motions to model how to chew, and try to make mealtimes a playful and engaging interaction between you and your child while developing their understanding of food.  

Handy hint: Waterproof ‘messy mats’ or ‘splash mats’ are a very useful accessory when encouraging messy play during meal times with your little one! They are relatively inexpensive and available online and in most local department stores.

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