Originally published on Jan. 28, 2018.


We're up to stage three of working on messy and food play as a way to work on introducing foods to your child with a significant sensory-based food difficulty.

At this stage, we're looking to introduce wetter items that will have an element of stickiness. These are often not as well tolerated as drier foods, but for many of the children I work with, they are an important texture, because children who have little experience of eating will typically have very delayed oral skills. So, if we're doing food play with a view to them ultimately eating the foods, then we'll need to use foods that are suitable for their oral skills (i.e. foods that don't need chewing). Introducing more solid foods may pose a choking risk for children with low levels of food experience to buld their oral control skills.

I typically use food purees for play at this stage, though there are lots of fun messy play ideas for this texture (e.g. shaving foam, soap bubbles, Gelli Baf). If your child has worked hard to build tolerance of drier textures, you don't want to have to respond to what may be their first attemtpts to bring food to their lips by saying 'no' and removing their hands.

Just a few things to think about with regards to what foods you choose at this stage:

  • You may want to avoid purees that have a strong smell, as this can be over-whelming
  • When you start, you might want to think about whether you are trying to expand the range of flavours your child might already eat (for example, they may eat one sweet flavour, and so you might want to expand this to another sweet flavour), or whether you are looking to expand into new flavours, for example, by choosing a more savoury flavour. There is no right or wrong here, it is just useful to think about what you are trying to acheive. Though sweeter foods tend to be better tolerated early on, as a rule, if your child has been on an extensively hydrolysed or amino acid formula, they might be more used to more bitter tastes.
  • If calorie intake is important, then you might need to think about this at the messy play stage. There is no point doing messy play with an apple puree, and then later trying to feed your sensory-sensitive child the same food with their high calorie milk in it, build in the milk from the beginning.
  • Remember that you might be giving your child lots of opportunities to play with this food before it is eaten. Make sure it is a food you will be able to source easily.

Next time we will start to look at what progress in messy play might look like, using the desensitisation hierarchy that we've talked about before. In the meantime, let me know any favourite messy play items below.