Park Play Helps Fussy Eaters

Park Play Helps Fussy Kids Eat

An invitation to play and prepare for a happy mealtime out doors.

It’s no secret I am a big fan of sensory play!  Like the time I encouraged you all to embrace mess, explained why playing with food outside of mealtimes is awesome and watched my girls get messy with this edible paint and vegetable activity. Playing, sensory engagement and exploration all come part and parcel with my play dates and electronic resources.

Recently, I was playing with the girls at the park, took a few happy snaps and later on I thought that I would highlight (on my facebook page and blog) the different sensory benefits that my girls were getting and WHY this helped them get ready to eat.


You will see a variety of pictures in this slide show.  There are a range of skills being learnt and different bodily systems being engaged.  Most local parks have a range of play equipment that is simlar to what is photographed, otherwise you may have some similar things at home too.  So what is being developed? (not an all inclusive list)

Balancing works our vestibular sensory system which helps improve our sense of spatial orientation. It also engages the proprioceptive sense of contacting our feet to the surface.  This all helps get feedback loops happening for kids and prepares them for motor planning tasks better (like planning HOW to eat each item of food they will be presented). A moving/bouncing bridge is also brilliant for some more unpredictable vestibular system processing! With unpredictability like that on a bouncy bridge, it’s no wonder kids are scared of walking across it!  Especially when others may be on it and moving it in unexpected ways (like jumping).

Crossing the mid line is when we move one body part into the zone of an opposite one.  Activities that have a child cross their mid line build pathways in the brain. This helps them build various motor and cognitive skills (like reading!) Some mid line crossing activities include:

  1. Scooping sand or bark from one side of the body and putting it into a bucket on the opposite side of the body without switching hands.
  2. Crossing a balance beam with obstacles in the way (see pic in flipagram)
  3. Spinning a large wheel with a hand over hand action (some pirate ship parks may have them)
  4. Using stepped, single hand holder monkey bars (where you only have enough room for one hand)

Swings activate the core muscles.  Also, being on a swing allows us to integrate the vestibular system (feedback about the movement) and get proprioceptive input (getting feedback about where we are).

Sand is a sensory seekers joy and a sensory avoider’s nightmare. Sand play is great for a range of reasons – I love it for the sensory resilience building and stimulation on the feet and hands (I would love it more if it didn’t also want to come home in the car with us!)

Imagination can be used so much in everyday situations and the park is a brilliant enabler. The shop front is a classic piece of equipment in the park. I often use this as an opportunity to introduce some fun banter about the foods that we are going to have for lunch.

All of these inputs are great, but whilst kids are in “play mode”, how is it possible to move them to the lunch table for a happy mealtime?
1) Give a warning system (5 min, 2 min, 1 min) and use it consistently (when out and when at home) in a positive tone. Children will also be much happier if they are reassured that they can play again after lunch – make sure that you allow time for this.
2) As you move to the eating area give them an element of control / imagination – eg. “where would you like the picnic blanket set-up, in spot A or B?”, “Can you carry the bag for me to that table?”, “Can we pretend to be space rockets on the way to the table?”
3) Have an activity at the table for a prepare to eat routine – this can just be a quick round of Simon says point to your elbows, eye brows, knees, chin, nose and ears.  Blowing bubbles is also really great.
4) If your child is particularly fussy, giving them items to choose one at a time from a communal lunchbox avoids them feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand.
5) Stay positive and instigate clean-up time in a timely manner.

I hope this post helps you enjoy ‪happy meal times in the great out doors this Summer. There are oodles of benefits for lunch at the park (and it may help you to embrace mess more comfortably too).

If you love my tips for happy mealtimes, please consider the eCourse and follow my instagram account (@playwithfood_au) for some behind the scenes pics of our family meals and life in general.

What is your child’s favourite equipment at the park?  What sensory systems do you think it works on?


Baked Zucchini and Bacon Risotto by Play with Food

Food safety guidelines for picnics

Choc Peanut Crackles | Play with Food

Choc Crackles for the Picnic?! Recipe Here!


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  • Reply
    Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    November 17, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Hi there, it’s my first time visiting and I love your description of how the act of eating and getting ready for food can be assisted by stimulating the different sensory systems. I have a fussy eater on the autism spectrum and I have to say I’ve never considered this connection before. You have definitely given me food for thought – thank you so much!

    • Reply
      Simone Emery
      November 17, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I run classes for fussy eaters. I use an evidence based approach to running the classes. I have training in SOS feeding therapy and first hand experience with ASD children. I definitely see a marked improvement when children generate proprioceptive inputs immediately before eating. I hope to see you here again soon. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply
    November 21, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    I had never considered this before! This has given me a lot to think about.

  • Please let me know your thoughts!

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