Sensory Food Play for Baby
By Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Specialist for ezpz
We all know that sensory food play is developmentally important for toddlers and school age children (especially if they are finicky), but what about infants? Babies also need to explore their senses to foster brain maturation – and sensory food play gives them an early love for food, too! Here are a few food play ideas to help your little one expand their sensory skills.
Safe Sensory Foods: I see a lot of well-meaning blogs that use dry beans, rice and other choking hazards for sensory food play with babies. While these foods are great ideas for older toddlers, they pose a huge safety risk when using them with babies. Why take a gamble when there are so many age appropriate and safe textures for you and baby to explore together? Here are a few of my favorites:
- Yogurt: Explore the colors of the rainbow by adding a drop of food coloring to expand their visual sense.
- Jell-O: I like to dunk a small toy or two into the Jell-O container. Baby can expand their sense of touch by digging into the squishy food medium to find it!
- Hummus: Let your baby splash and slap the hummus with their hands. Talk about the ‘wet sounds’ the hummus makes, which connects them to their hearing sense.
- Banana: I love giving babies a peeled banana to play with and eat, because they always bring it up to their face to smell its beautiful fragrance. Encourage baby to develop their sense of smell during sensory play.
- Sweet Potato: I bake sweet potatoes, peel them and offer one for baby to play with and discover their yummy sense of taste.
Sensory Play: During my feeding therapy sessions with infants I always make time to do a sensory food play activity. I find that these activities encourage baby to investigate new textures, especially if they are permitted to do it with both their hands AND feet!
- Feet: Yes, you read that right…feet! I allow babies to use their feet and toes during food play if they initiate it. I find that it can increase sensory exploration with some of my babies who have been unwilling to put food into their mouth. Much to parent’s surprise, I have had dozens of babies (diagnosed with food refusal, reflux or failure to thrive) take their first taste of food from their toes. Score!
- Hands: When we allow babies to play with food with no expectations, they eventually bring their little fingers to their tongue for a taste! This pressure-free environment allows baby to unleash their curiosity and encourages adventurous eating experiences.
Manage the Mess: Sensory food play will get their face, hands (and maybe their feet) sticky! So be prepared with products that will make this experience manageable for you and baby.
- Play Mat: I use the ezpz Play Mat for a soft silicone surface that has room for little hands and feet! With the Play Mat, you can keep this messy sensory project under control either inside or outside the house. One of my feeding clients set up their food play outside (on a hot summer day) close to their kid-friendly sprinklers for a simple cleanup solution. Another client brought their food art project straight into their tub! Now that makes managing the mess ezpz!
- Tiny Cup: The ezpz Tiny Cup can hold all of the foods described above AND can be used for liquid sensory play! Have fun engaging baby’s sense of touch by having them practice gripping the cup (with one hand) while sticking their other hand inside the cup for sensory food exploration. If they bring the cup to their mouth then you are also working on those early 4-6 month-old cup drinking milestones. Yes!
- Splash Mat: The Splash Mat by BapronBaby is a blanket made of waterproof fabric that is stain resistant, antimicrobial and machine washable. It weighs less than 8oz and folds up to the size of a small book. This makes food play clean and easy at home and on-the-go!
How do you involve your baby in sensory play at home? What are your favorite textures for food play fun? If you are using ezpz products during sensory play activities, tag us in your pics at #ezpzfun #myezpzmat!
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Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 26 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning Tiny Cup & Tiny Spoon (for infants) and the Mini Cup + Straw Training System & Mini Utensils (for toddlers).