Ask the expert: Should I let my baby play with food?
An expert explains babies should use all their senses to explore food during weaning, as it will help them learn to love new foods.
Nutritionist Claire Baseley says: "To play or not to play with food is a common conundrum for many parents. New research from Ella's Kitchen has revealed 27 per cent of parents still think playing with food isn't good behaviour, despite studies showing babies and toddlers who engage with food using all their senses (in and outside of mealtimes) during weaning can become more familiar with, and therefore more willing to try, those foods, and over time learn to love them.
"Most parents (86 per cent) think mealtimes should be fun and enjoyable, but admit they find getting their children to eat certain foods even more stressful than a trip to the dentist, being stuck in traffic, or even moving house, with vegetables often topping the list of most challenging foods to introduce.
"It can take eight to 12 experiences of a food before it's accepted, and the first few might result in some funny faces. Patient perseverance is key – as a fun and enjoyable experience with food can help build confidence, curiosity and a willingness to try a variety of yummy tastes and textures.
"Allowing babies to use their five senses to explore new foods is key for development. Purees and mashed textures can be explored with their hands and getting messy is an important learning opportunity.
"Giving whole vegetables and fruits or finger foods can also help familiarise babies with the different shapes, sizes, colours and textures like bumpy avocado or shiny pepper and is less messy, as is making 'musical' instruments using different grains or pasta shapes in a sealed bottle.
"Where there's play, food and lots of fun, there's bound to be a bit of mess. If that's a concern, I'd recommend playing before bath time, on a wipeable mat or in the sink or outside.
"We want all little ones to fall in love with good food and enjoy their earliest mealtime experiences. Playing with food may get a little messy at times, but your baby will reap the benefits as they continue their weaning journey and have fun exploring new and exciting foods for life."