Is mealtime a challenge in your house due to picky eaters? Does planning dinners for the week cause you stress? You aren’t alone if you answered yes! Every parent has encountered such mealtime battles at one time or another. As an occupational therapist and mom of three children ages 4, 7, and 8, I’ve had to really dig deep to bring some peace to the dinner table.
Since children learn best through play, my husband and I decided to implement a few simple games with our supper. Our goal was to help expose my children to a variety of foods that included more healthy options.
Below are some fun, mealtime games with a brief explanation on how to play. Feel free to get creative and adapt these games to fit your child’s age level and skills.
The Loudest Crunch
This game works best with raw vegetables and fruit. Each child takes a turn biting into their food and a parent judges who was the loudest.
I know that my children are not going to eat everything I introduce to their plates. For foods they don’t want to actually take a bite of, we let them blow “food rockets” into the trash by placing the item between their lips and then blowing it out. This game can help kiddos who are unsure about new texture, smells or tastes.
Guess the Food
Cover each food item and present one item at a time. Tell your child to close their eyes. Let your child smell, touch, and if they are really brave, taste the food. Then let your child guess what is on their plate! If your child has some anxiety related to food, skip this game.
Roll the Dice
This is a pretty simple game. First your child chooses if they will smell, lick, or bite a new food item. Then have them roll the dice to determine how many smells, licks, or bites they will take. Another way to play this game is to make up some number cards using a marker and paper and have your child draw a number. This also allows you to keep the numbers low (think 1, 2, or 3).
Painting with Food
This is less of a game and more of a sensory art project. Use pudding, yogurt, or even spaghetti sauce and let your child have some fun! For those of you with sensory defensive children, let them keep a napkin close by to wipe their fingers.
Other ideas to make dinner fun:
- Dinner winner plates: You can order these awesome plates online. The hidden treat at the end is pretty motivating for my children!
- Read some nonfiction books about how food is grown or where it comes from.
- Dress up fancy for a dinner party or tea party. Light some candles and play some music.
- Theme your dinners around fun movies. Think Chinese food with Mulan, or Italian food with Lady and the Tramp.
- Find some educational programs that show how food is made in factories. My children have started asking me to find some of the food they've seen highlighted on these shows.
- Let your children meal plan with you. Give them some cookbooks and let them pick out a few new meals to try.
- Let your children help with the prep work of making dinner or lunch. When possible, let your children choose what goes on their plates. For example, turkey or ham lunch meat, carrots or peppers, cheddar or mozzarella cheese.
I hope some of these ideas have encouraged you! I am a firm believer that we can teach our children manners while still exploring, enjoying, and having fun with our food.
I received a game in exchange for this blog post. All opinions expressed belong to me.
Stephanie Johnson, MS OTR/L, is a proud mama to three and enjoys crafting, cooking, and spending time with family. With a Masters in Occupational Therapy, she has a passion for feeding therapy with children and teens.
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