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Researcher teams up with Ella's Kitchen to help children improve relationships with food

As many parents know, encouraging little ones to eat their fruit and veg can be a real struggle at mealtimes.

Now a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) researcher has teamed up with children’s food brand Ella’s Kitchen to develop a new way of encouraging little ones to try new things, by playing with their food.


The Sensory Play Packs include 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.

Dr Helen Coulthard of DMU worked with Ella’s Kitchen nutritionist Claire Baseley to come up with the pack. It is based upon her research which shows that children who play with their food are more likely to try new things.

Helen Coulthard

Dr Coulthard (pictured above) said: “We specialise in non-taste techniques; this means encouraging children to interact with foods and food stimuli, without the pressure to try them.

“For children who are currently refusing a lot of foods, focusing on ‘healthy’ foods such as fruits and vegetables may be unhelpful and unrealistic, adding pressure and making the problem worse.”

A study conducted for Ella’s Kitchen found two thirds of parents (62%0 still told their children not to play with food at mealtimes. Some 41% of parents questioned said 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%).

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%).  

Claire Baseley, Ella’s kitchen nutritionist said: “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.”

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:  


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+.



Posted on Monday 20th September 2021

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