Ella’s Kitchen launches Sensory Play Packs to help children improve relationships with food

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Little people should play with their food according to the UK’s leading baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen Brands after research reveals two thirds of parents (62%) still tell their little ones not to.

According to new research released today, a third of parents (27%) think playing with food isn’t good behaviour despite studies* showing that babies and toddlers that engage with food using all their senses, in and outside of mealtimes, can help familiarise them and lead to increased willingness to try a new food.

However reassuringly, Ella’s Kitchen found a huge 86% of parents believe mealtimes should be a fun and enjoyable experience and over three quarters (77%) see it as a chance to bond with their baby, but it seems 41% of parents find getting their children to try or eat certain foods more stressful than a trip to the dentist (19%), being stuck in traffic (29%), or even moving house (29%).

Studies show that little ones who engage and have fun with food using all their senses, in and outside of mealtimes, are much more willing to try those foods, and over time, learn to love them. ​​To provide inspiration and bring the fun into food and mealtimes, Ella’s Kitchen is offering parents the chance to get their hands on a free expert-designed tasty, touchy, squishy Sensory Play Pack, created to help little ones from six months to three years fall in love with good food through fun, multi-sensorial games.

Created in partnership with childhood eating behaviour expert Dr Helen Coulthard from De Montfort University and Ella’s Kitchen’s expert nutritionist Claire Baseley, the packs are bursting full of sensory elements, designed to help the 3 in 4 (72%) that admit they still struggle to get their little one to try new foods at mealtimes. Each Sensory Play Pack includes touchy, feely, textured stickers, a sensory play activity booklet packed with recipe and game ideas, fruit + veg rainbow snap cards, a sensory play wall chart, The Purple One pouch, and some little Ella’s Kitchen socks to play a great herby smelly socks game with.

Two thirds (63%) of parents said they felt ongoing lockdowns and a lack of interaction and fun experiences outside the home also contributed to a negative impact on their child’s relationship with food, due to a lack of interaction with other children (41%), a lack of different eating scenarios (38%) and a lack of experience with a variety of new foods (33%). So, this expertly crafted pack is here to help tackle the issues the research uncovers and help to ensure little ones are having lots of fun when it comes to mealtimes.

Claire Baseley, Ella’s kitchen nutritionist says: “Parents often find it hard to get their children to eat new foods, with vegetables often topping the list of most challenging foods to introduce – but did you know, it can take up to 8-12 experiences of a food before your little one accepts it? The first few experiences with a new food might result in a few funny faces, but patient perseverance is key and a fun and enjoyable experience with food now can help build confidence and curiosity as they grow and make them more willing to try new things, including a variety of yummy tastes and textures. At Ella’s, we want little ones to fall in love with good food and enjoy their earliest mealtime experiences which is why our Sensory Play Packs are designed with this in mind – to help you let your little one enjoy mealtimes by exploring new foods in fun and exciting ways.”

Alongside the Sensory Play Pack, Ella’s Kitchen has created a new Sensory Play website hub, housing lots of fun foodie activity ideas for little ones, yummy recipes, handy tips and videos from our experts + more to get littles ones exploring new and deeelicious foods in fun and exciting ways. Whether parents are just starting to wean or encouraging their toddler to join in at the big table, there’s something fun and exciting for all little people from 6 months to 3 years to enjoy: www.ellaskitchen.co.uk/sensory-play  

To get your little one’s free Sensory Play Pack, spend £25 on Ella’s online shop and enter the code SENSORY25 at checkout… but be super duper quick, once they’re gone, they’re gone!

Ella’s Kitchen Nutritionist Claire Baseley’s top tips for engaging the senses at mealtimes:

Time for texture!

Let little hands feel the different textures of foods as you prepare a scrummy meal, like a bumpy avocado skin. Then explore the squishy, creeeamy, silky smoooth texture inside too!

No foodie faves!

Try to treat all foods as equal at mealtimes or during sensory play and avoid singling out any disliked foods, like veg, as being super yummy, healthy or fun. Little ones are clever and will get suspicious!

Finger food fun!

Encourage your little one to explore their finger foods using the senses and ask them lots of questions… Is it yummy? Squidgy? Hard? Soft? Bumpy?

Offer a variety!

Allow your little one to touch, squeeze, sniff + play, without pressuring them to eat, especially if it’s a disliked food. If they don’t want to try it, encourage them to pop it on a side plate… they’ve still engaged with it without being told to eat it.

Looks yummy!

Keep going with the visual adventure at mealtimes! Even if little ones are eating pureed or mashed food, they can still explore whole fruits and veggies with all their senses to get familiar with the colours and shapes. Show your little one the ingredients you’re using when prepping a meal and talk about the different colours + shapes. This way, they can also

see the journey to their bowl or high chair!

Dr Helen Coulthard’s top tips for engaging the senses outside of mealtimes:

Have FUN!

Why not involve a favourite toy or character in a game to help make it a fun, positive experience for your little one!

Copy me, copy you!

Little ones love copying others, so show off your model behaviour at the dinner table and even invite a friend round (especially if they’re a good little eater).

What’s the time?

Timing is important – try playing games when your little one is happy and alert, and not too sleepy or hungry. 

Waste worries!

To help reduce food waste:

  • Help your little one prepare food everyone can eat! It is never too early to start teaching your child to get mashing, mixing + stirring – just make sure everyone washes their hands first!
  • Use leftover veggies or fruits that would go into compost and make fun foodie art.
  • Let little hands feel the different textures!

Messy play!

Where there’s play, food + lots of fun, there’s bound to be a bit of mess! If a game is likely to get messy, perhaps play before bath time or on a wipeable may, in the sink or outside.

Watch the piggy bank!

Food play doesn’t have to be expensive! You can use lower cost foods like pasta or flour mixed with water for sensory fun. You don’t even have to play with food, you can go outside and get hands on with mud, grass and leaves for free – remember, sensory play doesn’t have to only involve food.

Go slow + try again later!

Remember to go at your little one’s pace and think about their likes and dislikes. If they don’t like gooey substances for example, start playing with firmer or drier textures first! You can make a note of what they do and don’t like, and you can always try again later!

Try a rainbow!

Introduce a rainbow of veggies + fruits, ranging from small squishy green peas (from 10m+) to big, shiny purple aubergines! Let little ones explore the different textures of the same foods cooked and raw too… for example, crunchy, snappy raw carrot versus soft + squishy mashed carrot. Pssst! Raw carrots are suitable for tiny tums from 12m+.