Fun Food Activities to do with Toddlers

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about sensory food play

  • Why food activities for toddlers are helpful for building food acceptance

  • How to involve your little one in meal prep with food activities

  • Some fun food arts and crafts for toddlers

What is Sensory Food Play?

Sensory food play is the act of exposing someone to a food by interacting with it and stimulating all the senses except for taste.1 Talking about eating the food and making the child take a bite is not an intentional part of sensory food play.

It turns out that this method of introducing produce may encourage more tasting of fruits and vegetables in toddlers and help reduce the fear of new foods (food neophobia).1,4

Types of food play and interaction

Helping cook in the kitchen

A toddler can begin helping in the kitchen by assisting you in preparing the family meal or afternoon snack.25

Your little one may be able to help by:

  • Washing foods

  • Stirring ingredients together

  • Cutting soft foods with a plastic knife (once they are old enough)

  • Measuring and pouring

  • Scooping

Activities with food

Get your child involved by having them interact with food in other ways besides eating!1 This could be making a face with the food, building a structure or animal with cubes of melon and toothpicks or popsicle sticks, or even allowing your little one to make a picture with different cut-up fruits and veggies and then added glitter and pom-poms.

Be sure to have fresh cut of produce on the side just in case your little one decides they may want to lick or bite it. This is to help avoid them taking a bite of pom poms, glitter, toothpicks, or any other crafting tool you may be using.

Pictures of food

Visual exposure to a food, such as looking at pictures of food in recipe books or pictures of food in your baby’s picture books, may also increase willingness to taste that new food.3

These activities will not only get your toddler involved in mealtime prep but will also give them exposure to different types of food.

Learn More:

How Can I Get My Baby to Love Veggies?

Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipe and Snack Ideas

Food Sensory Activity Ideas

6 food preparation ideas for toddlers

Parents of picky eaters unite in their frustration and difficult mealtime battles. Involving children in meal preparation may help to develop healthy eating behavior not only for picky eaters but for all children.2,5

  1. With your child, look at pictures of meals in recipe books or online (parent approved recipes, of course) while you are meal planning. There are also many toddler cookbooks that include some simple recipes for parents and toddlers to prepare together. Have your little one pick out a recipe to be one of the family’s weekly meals.

  2. Take a trip to the grocery store with your toddler. Have them pick out a fruit or vegetable to bring home based on their favorite color. Ask them what the food feels like and smells like. Prepare it at home to put on their plate at mealtime. If possible, let them help prepare it as well!

  3. Washing the veggies. Set up your little one to stand over the sink and give them a clean washcloth to help you “wash” the vegetables or fruit. Be prepared for a wet mess! You can also set up a sensory/water table or bin that has a head of lettuce for them to wash and rip apart. They can then pat dry with a towel and put the lettuce in a big bowl.

  4. Paint vegetables using a pastry brush dipped in olive oil for parents to roast and serve.

  5. Help in the kitchen. Set up your little one to help mix, sift, or count ingredients.

  6. Create a snack face using a rice cake with a thin layer of nut butter or cream cheese as the base. Have small bowls of shredded veggies (hair), thin veggie sliced coins (eyes), and sliced red peppers or orange sections for a mouth. Put out a variety of whatever veggies or fruits you have in the fridge and watch them create and then eat!

Read more:

Family Dinner Ideas: Fun and Easy Interactive Meals to Make with your Child

Helping Avoid Picky Eating in Infants and Toddlers

Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

5 Food crafts & activities for toddlers

You can also do activities with your little ones that involve food where they don’t actually eat the food, but simply play with it. The sensory interaction of just touching, seeing, smelling, and feeling a food will help to create a greater willingness to taste the food.1,4

Let’s explore some easy crafts for toddlers to help ease into food acceptance and behaviors (ages 12-18+ months):

  1. Finger painting with pudding. Have your toddler use their fingers to paint with all different color puddings. You can also dip broccoli florets, halved raw potatoes, or romaine heart nubs into pudding and then “stamp” the paper or plate with them.

  2. Give them some shredded coconut to toss on top of their creation.

  3. Make playdough with oatmeal: Oatmeal playdough recipe: Mix one part flour, 2 parts dry oatmeal, and one part water. Mix ingredients together, adding more flour to achieve the consistency your little one likes.

  4. Cut cooked spaghetti or spaghetti squash with a toddler scissor. Use this as hair on a vegetable and fruit stick person!

  5. Color sorting with fruits and vegetables. On a piece of paper draw a bunch of circles using different colored crayons or markers and have your little one sort the fruits and vegetables according to color by putting them in the correctly colored ring.

  6. Mystery Produce. Put different fruits and vegetables in a brown paper bag (or other opaque container) and let your child reach in to feel and guess what the produce is without looking.

One more tip about tasting

You may find that your little one is eager to taste the foods they’re playing with. Consider preparing a similar food item (pudding, oatmeal, produce, etc) as a snack to enjoy once playtime is over, since these activities are not meant to be eaten once the food sensory interactions are over.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Picky Eater Snack Dips for Babies and Toddlers

Helping your Child Learn to Love Healthy Foods

7 Ways For Your Baby To Learn to Like Veggies

When it’s More than Picky Eating: 4 Warning Signs