It’s time for the holidays and I bet, like everyone else (or at least, like myself), you’re thinking about what to buy. Whether you’re searching for a gift for a child who has challenges with food or not, food-themed gifts are a great way to go! Food themed gifts can be fun for the whole family and can also support feeding and language development.
How can food themed gifts support feeding development?
Mealtime can be a stressful time of the day, especially for children who have challenges with food. Exploring food through sensory play (playing with food) and food related toys can be both fun and effective. This gives the child the opportunity to become exposed to and explore familiar and novel foods they may not want to try during mealtime without having any pressure on them to eat anything. It also gives them the opportunity to have positive, enjoyable interactions with food through play with food related toys. It is recommended that you try to play away from where you typically eat meals. This helps the child understand that these fun food related activities are for them to explore and learn.
How can food themed gifts support language development?
Play with food related toys gives the child the opportunity to be creative, use their imagination, and problem solve through pretend play. Here are a few aspects of language development you can support with food related toys depending on the child’s age and ability level. If the child is not yet demonstrating all these skills - that’s ok! Try to build in new skills slowly and model each skill for them.
Sorting by Attribute: Sorting is a fundamental skill needed later when trying to understand mathematical concepts and gives the child the opportunity to manipulate objects and develop problem solving skills. Try sorting by color, category (e.g., types of food), hot vs. cold, or another attribute. Start small and model!
Vocabulary: Food related toys open the opportunity for your child to be introduced to novel vocabulary: nouns that label specific food items or tools; verbs that label actions as you engage in pretend play; descriptors of size, shape, attributes, or color. Introduce a few words specific to the activity as you play, then repetition, repetition, repetition! Your child will learn vocabulary as you provide repetitive models that coincide with their actions within a play-based activity.
Expanding Language: Similar to vocabulary, pretend play with food related toys provides numerous opportunities to model expanded language structures. Modeling expanded language structures is important as this is how children learn to use expanded structures! Talk about what your child is doing and use the “plus one” strategy - recast (repeat) what the child said, but add a word. For example, if the child says “tomato”, while putting the tomato in the oven, try saying “cook tomato” or “hot tomato”.
Sequencing & Following Directions: Food related toys are an easy way to build in sequencing and following directions. You can work on sequencing steps for making a sandwich, cooking, or even setting a table to get ready for a meal. You can also work on various basic concepts, like more or less, counting, colors, or locations (put in the oven; give to mom).
Answering Questions: During play, you can help the child practice answering simple questions like “who”, “where” and “what”. You can give an item to someone, then ask the child, “Who has the mixer?” or “Where is the soup?” if they put a can of soup in the microwave.
Social Development: Play encourages the child to engage with others (whoever is playing with them), which can support their social development. You can support their language development by modeling how to play with the toy, turn-taking, and sharing.
Here are some recommendations for food themed gifts and some ideas for how you can use it:
Bamboo & Silicone Kids Lunch Box and Cup Tray:
Change up mealtime with this fun tray! The car-shared lunch box can make eating more interesting for a little one who loves cars and transportation. Fun ways you can also play with this tray:
Wooden Montessori Gardening Game:
Wooden Pizza Oven Play Set:
Pretend Wooden Montessori Cutting Fruit Vegetable Set:
The above are links to affiliates or to our feeding fun tools website.
Remember - find a toy that the child enjoys playing with and have fun. This will help encourage them to engage in play and communicate with whoever is playing with them. And don’t forget to be animated - use words like “YUMMMM” or “NOM NOM” when you pretend to eat, or “OUCH” and pretend the food is hot. This makes play a lot more fun and engaging!
NEVER try to use words like Yuck or gross when talking about food. Only discuss their properties. shape color, hot/cold, etc. We want to shape language around food to be more positive!