Food Games: How To Make Mealtime Fun For Children
Food Games during mealtime? Why not. Once in a while, bring in that element of fun to the dining table with these simple food games. Try them the next time you feed your child.
By Sahana Charan
Remember the times when our grandmas would tell stories while feeding us, and we would be so engrossed in the tales that mealtimes would be over in a jiffy?
As parents, we may often wish that our children finish what’s on their plate. Food struggles are a dilemma that many of us face — as we want our little ones to adopt a nutritious and wholesome diet, instead of being drawn towards oily, fried and sugar-laden food.
But, there is no cause for worry. There are many ways in which you can make mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable for your child. While force-feeding can be counterproductive, creating a happy and positive atmosphere while eating a meal can do wonders.
One such way of making mealtime fun for your child is through simple food games that can get her interested in what she is eating. And sometimes, make even bland food seem palatable! This is not an everyday solution, but something that can be tried occasionally to ‘spice’ things up on the dining table.
According to Chennai-based nutritionist Smitha Suresh, it is important that parents keep the mealtime atmosphere pleasant and free from negative vibes.
“We all know that an increase of oxytocin (also known as the love hormone) levels in our body give us a feeling of love and positivity. It is also a fact that oxytocin is present in the digestive tract and is important for our digestion as it improves gut motility. In fact, low levels of this hormone in the gut can slow down the process of digestion. So, maintaining a fun, relaxed and positive atmosphere during mealtimes is essential for children to digest their food. Food games are a good way of creating such an environment, so that children feel good about their meal and will be open to trying new foods,” she says.
So, all set to play some games during mealtime? Before you start, here are some important tips to remember while playing food games with children:
- Play food games only once in a while and do not make it a habit at mealtimes. As children have to learn to eat normally and regularly in the long run, without any external aid to help them eat, every time.
- Keep the games simple and easy for children to understand and grasp. These games should not be confusing for the children.
- Make eating the food the main priority and not the game itself.
- Ensure that food games are only a means of having fun at mealtimes and should not prove to be a distraction from the food. Children should not expect food games to be an essential part of the feeding time.
- Do not label food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Your child must not get the feeling that you are playing food games with her because the food is unpalatable.
“Food games should be played mindfully – with parents speaking to the child in an encouraging way as they eat their food. The aim should be to reduce conflicts while eating,” adds Smitha Suresh.
Here are some easy and interesting food games that can make mealtimes a breeze:
Food games for infants and toddlers (6 months to 3 years)
1. Aeroplane is landing!
Many of us might be familiar with this popular trick to get infants to eat their meals without a fuss. All you have to do is tell your little one that their mouth has a large airport in it and that the spoon with which you are feeding is an aeroplane. Take a spoonful of some fruit or vegetable puree and with a lot of drama, expressions and sound effects, act as if the spoon/aeroplane is coming into the runway (with a whizzing sound for effect)!
Ask your little one to keep the gates of the runway (the mouth) wide open and get the food inside your child’s mouth. Your child will be so transfixed on the food-laden spoon coming her way that she would quickly open her mouth to take in the food. You can make stories about which place the aeroplane is landing, give innovative names to the airlines and so on. Be creative!
2. Counting on fingers!
Toddlers can be cranky at mealtimes and may sometimes refuse to properly chew their food. You can get your child to chew his food properly by playing this simple game. Place a bowl of cut fruits/veggies (or any home-cooked food) in front of him on the table and ask him to put one piece in his mouth and count to five on his fingers till he swallows it. Tell him the game involves chewing for as many times as the finger-count.
Chances are your toddler will happily indulge in the game and learn to chew food properly so that it gets digested in his gut.
3. Know the knowledge game!
Small children love listening to the sound of their parents’ voice. Especially when adults speak in a happy, animated tone – the tiny tots are usually all ears. To begin, place a mix of food including rice, greens, veggies or lentils in a variety of colours in a bowl. Put one food item, for example, a piece of boiled carrot in your little one’s mouth and ask her, “Do you know why carrots are good for you?” Then you can proceed by saying, “Carrots will make your eyes bright and prevent you from falling sick.” When your child has chewed and swallowed the food ask her to repeat what you said. This game is a fun way of dispensing good information on the food that is on your child’s plate.
You can do the same thing with other food items. Make sure you read up and are prepared, so that you are well-versed about the benefits of the food you are giving your child. You can play this game with both infants and toddlers. While very small children may not totally grasp the meaning of what you are saying, they will be interested in the food when you are talking about it.
4. Check out the checkerboard!
Who does not enjoy board games? And, if the pieces are edible, even better, don’t you think? For this game, make squares on a plate by drawing horizontal and vertical lines with some tomato or pumpkin puree. Now, place a variety of fruits and vegetables that have been cut into small cubes (like game pieces) within these squares. Ensure that some of the food items are your child’s favourites while a few are new foods. Now, ask her to take a vegetable square and make it jump a place over another one, moving in one direction. Tell her that the pieces that reach the end or do not have any places to jump have to be eaten. This way your toddler enjoys playing with her food while eating it too!
5. Coconut shell game
How about a change of cutlery while feeding your toddler? She is sure to notice the change. To make it earthy and fun, try a coconut shell cutlery. How to go about it? We tell you the easy way out! Do not throw away the shell of the coconut after you have used it. Keep it in the sun to dry completely and remove the rough edges if any. Now, either you can put your regular food bowl inside one half of the coconut or keep the food directly in the coconut shell. While feeding your toddler, now tell the story of her coconut bowl, how it landed from a tree to her dining table!
Food games for preschoolers and primary school children (4 to 8 years)
1. Idli tower
Want your picky little eater to get a taste of some idli and sambhar, without throwing a tantrum? Then you would be surprised how this fun game would get him to eat his meal without a fuss.
Cut idlis into bite-sized cubes and place them in a bowl. Keep another bowl with sambhar next to it. Now, take a plate and ask your child to build a tower on it with the idli cubes, in such a way that the base has the maximum pieces. As the tower goes up, the pieces keep decreasing. Every time a piece drops, he has to dunk it in the sambhar and eat it. Give a time limit of a few minutes and as he reaches the top, he eats the pieces and starts again. The food will be gone in no time!
2. Blindfolded taste test
This game can be a lot of fun, and while food is being consumed it will also act as a bonding exercise for the parent and child.
Ask your child to either close her eyes, or better still, blindfold her. Keep bowls full of a variety of fruits, vegetables and cooked food. At first, ask your child to smell the particular food item and guess what it is. Then, let her taste different foods one by one. You can include apple slices, dried fruits like dates, cooked broccoli and mushroom, and food items like poha, upma or dosa. The assortment of foods could just be whatever spread you have cooked on that particular day. The idea is to have fun without putting pressure to eat. Encourage her and appreciate her when she says the right answer.
3. Find the surprise
This is a simple game that can be a lot of fun because of the element of surprise in it. If your finicky eater makes a face about eating cereal or porridge in the morning before going to school, tell him there is a surprise hidden at the bottom of the bowl. All you have to do is place a piece of his favourite fruit/dried fruit (maybe even a chocolate square) at the bottom of the bowl and fill it with porridge or cereal. Tell him the challenge is to eat the entire food item to reach to the surprise. This way, your child may at least get a few spoonfuls of the breakfast cereal into his tummy.
Most of you may have heard of the Jenga tower game. In this game, a tower is built by placing a set of three wooden blocks next to each other, and then vertically placing the consecutive set of three blocks at 90-degree angles from the previous set. Once the tower is built, the players try to remove blocks without toppling the tower. You can play the same game with your child but use vegetable batons (cucumber, carrot, beet, etc.) instead of wooden blocks. Every baton your child is able to remove successfully should go into his mouth.
5. Poriyal well in you sambhar-rice mountain:
Let’s name the heap of sambhar-rice on your child’s plate as a mountain and then ask him to make a hole in the middle of the sambar-rice mountain. Then put some poriyal/sabji in that well. The game begins now, challenge your child to eat the sambhar-rice without touching the poriyal well in the middle. Once she completely finishes her rice, then she can have poriyal with some extra rice or a chapati.
Parents tend to try all kinds of tricks and treat to get their picky little ones to eat healthy food. Food games played occasionally can help ease the process and can be an effective way to bond with children. And all the giggles and healthy competition at the dining table is an added bonus.
About the author:
Written by Sahana Charan on 29 January 2020.
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