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'Don't Play With Food' Myth Debunked

Little people should play with their food according to experts!

The UK’s leading baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen Brands Ltd has released this reassuring information after their research revealed that a whopping two thirds of parents (62%) still tell their little ones not to play with their food.

According to new research, approximately one third of parents (27%) think their children playing with food isn’t good behaviour despite studies showing that babies and toddlers that engage with their food using all their senses can are more likely and ready to try new flavours and textures. This is really reassuring news for all of us parents who have children who do a great imitation of Picasso at dinner time...

Ella's Kitchen Sensory Play Packs

To help parents and little ones to improve their relationship with food and create more fun mealtimes, Ella’s Kitchen has launched limited edition tasty and squishy Sensory Play Packs to encourage and inspire children from 6 months to 3 years to have sensory fun with food, in and out of mealtime! Find out more here.

The Sensory Play Packs were created in partnership with childhood eating behaviour expert Dr Helen Coulthard from De Montfort University, and Ella’s Kitchen’s expert nutritionist Claire Baseley.

The sensory packs are 'bursting full of sensory elements', and each Sensory Play Pack includes the following;

  • Textured stickers
  • Sensory play activity booklet packed with recipe and game ideas
  • Fruit + veg rainbow snap cards
  • A sensory play wall chart
  • The Purple One pouch
  • Little Ella’s Kitchen socks to play a great herby smelly socks game with
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Lockdowns & Relationships With Food...

The latest research from Ella’s Kitchen reveals two in three mummies and daddies feel that the multiple lockdowns we have experienced in the UK have negatively affected their child’s relationship with food. This is due to factors such as reduced socialisation and lack of interaction with other children at nursery and school - would you agree?

On the flip side, a massive 86% of parents want feeding time to be an exciting, experience and 77% recognise it as a bonding opportunity. Sadly, 41% admit that getting their kids to even try new foods is more 'stressful' than a trip to the dentist or moving house - we can certainly relate to this too. The Sensory Play Pack is designed to help parents to tackle these worries!

 Claire Baseley, Ella’s Kitchen Nutritionist says:

“Parents often find it hard to get their children to eat new foods, with vegetables often topping the list of most challenging foods to introduce - but did you know, it can take up to 8-12 experiences of a food before your little one accepts it? The first few experiences with a new food might result in a few funny faces, but patient perseverance is key and a fun and enjoyable experience with food now can help build confidence and curiosity as they grow and make them more willing to try new things, including a variety of yummy tastes and textures. At Ella’s, we want little ones to fall in love with good food and enjoy their earliest mealtime experiences which is why our Sensory Play Packs are designed with this in mind – to help you let your little one enjoy mealtimes by exploring new foods in fun and exciting ways.”

Ella's Kitchen Sensory Play Website

Alongside the Sensory Play Pack, Ella’s Kitchen has created a new Sensory Play website hub or parents and carers, hosting loads of amazing activity ideas for little ones, tasty recipes, useful tips and videos from the experts at Ella's Kitchen. Whether you're new to the world of weaning, or you're keen to encourage your toddler or older child to join in at meal times, there is something great or all little ones on this website! Visit the website here.

To get your little one's free Sensory Play Pack, spend £25 on Ella's online shop and enter the code SENSORY25 at checkout… but be quick as they are limited edition!

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Ella’s Kitchen Nutritionist Claire Baseley’s top tips for engaging the senses at mealtimes:

Time for texture!

Let little hands feel the different textures of foods as you prepare a scrummy meal, like a bumpy avocado skin. Then explore the squishy, creeeamy, silky smoooth texture inside too!

No foodie faves!

Try to treat all foods as equal at mealtimes or during sensory play and avoid singling out any disliked foods, like veg, as being super yummy, healthy or fun. Little ones are clever and will get suspicious!

Finger food fun!

Encourage your little one to explore their finger foods using the senses and ask them lots of questions... Is it yummy? Squidgy? Hard? Soft? Bumpy?

Offer a variety!

Allow your little one to touch, squeeze, sniff + play, without pressuring them to eat, especially if it’s a disliked food. If they don’t want to try it, encourage them to pop it on a side plate... they’ve still engaged with it without being told to eat it.

Looks yummy!

Keep going with the visual adventure at mealtimes! Even if little ones are eating pureed or mashed food, they can still explore whole fruits and veggies with all their senses to get familiar with the colours and shapes. Show your little one the ingredients you’re using when prepping a meal and talk about the different colours + shapes. This way, they can also see the journey to their bowl or high chair!

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Dr Helen Coulthard’s top tips for engaging the senses outside of mealtimes:

Have FUN!

Why not involve a favourite toy or character in a game to help make it a fun, positive experience for your little one!

Copy me, copy you!

Little ones love copying others, so show off your model behaviour at the dinner table and even invite a friend round (especially if they’re a good little eater).

What’s the time?

Timing is important - try playing games when your little one is happy and alert, and not too sleepy or hungry.

Waste worries! To help reduce food waste:

Help your little one prepare food everyone can eat! It is never too early to start teaching your child to get mashing, mixing + stirring - just make sure everyone washes their hands first!
Use leftover veggies or fruits that would go into compost and make fun foodie art.
Let little hands feel the different textures!

Messy play!

Where there’s play, food + lots of fun, there’s bound to be a bit of mess! If a game is likely to get messy, perhaps play before bath time or on a wipeable may, in the sink or outside.

Watch the piggy bank!

Food play doesn’t have to be expensive! You can use lower cost foods like pasta or flour mixed with water for sensory fun. You don’t even have to play with food, you can go outside and get hands on with mud, grass and leaves for free - remember, sensory play doesn’t have to only involve food.

Go slow + try again later!

Remember to go at your little one’s pace and think about their likes and dislikes. If they don’t like gooey substances for example, start playing with firmer or drier textures first! You can make a note of what they do and don’t like, and you can always try again later!

Try a rainbow!

Introduce a rainbow of veggies + fruits, ranging from small squishy green peas (from 10m+) to big, shiny purple aubergines! Let little ones explore the different textures of the same foods cooked and raw too… for example, crunchy, snappy raw carrot versus soft + squishy mashed carrot. Pssst! Raw carrots are suitable for tiny tums from 12m+.

Our Verdict...

We're so glad to see this reassuring information, as we know so many of you worry about how messy and boisterous your children get at dinner time. It is actually GREAT that they do this, as the experts have found - so embrace it! We hope that the tips from the experts working with Ella's Kitchen help you mummies and daddies to embrace sensory meal times, too.

Many thanks to the folks at Ella's Kitchen for this information!

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