More than 90% of children do not eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPlate Nutrition Guide. It is advisable to fill half the plate with fruits and veggies. (1)
More importantly, are you struggling with getting some the nutritional value of fruits and veggies into your picky eater? Then, you may want to include fruits and vegetables in your child’s sensory diet in the near future.
Despite the common reprimand among the general population of “Don’t play with your food!”, playing with food is exactly what some sensory kids need to do before accepting certain healthy foods into their diets.
The Nose Knows
To stimulate the olfactory senses, blindfold your child and have them sniff different types of fruits and vegetables to try to guess what they are. Citrus fruits are particularly good for this activity and often have an energizing effect.
Carrot Tip Painting
Add a new twist to painting with regular paint or shaving cream by using a carrot with the leaf part still attached as a paint brush. The leaves make interesting patterns when dipped in paint and the natural rough texture of the carrot provides extra tactile stimulation.
To encourage crossing the midline, place carrot painting medium on one side of your canvas and water for cleaning the carrot brush on the other.
Vary muscles used by trying the activity both on a horizontal surface, such as a table top, and a vertical one, such as a wall.
Hot Potato, Plus
For motor planning as well as auditory input, play a classic game of Hot Potato, but with a slight twist.
Toss a different firm fruit or vegetable for each round. Simply take a real fruit or vegetable and pass it as a ‘hot potato’ between two or more players while the music plays. When the music stops, the person holding the produce is out.
Up the ante and have the child do a challenge, such as taking a bite of a food the person is learning to accept. Encourage movement by having the child perform some sort of movement activity as the challenge.
Produce Power Course
For proprioceptive input, create an obstacle course that incorporates fruits and vegetables. Include the following stations:
- a fine motor station such as plucking grapes and putting them in a small container,
- a station for balancing, such as walking over a plank while carrying a squash in each hand or balancing an apple on your head,
- a station for jumping, such as jumping over a few prickly pineapples,
- a station for crawling, such as rolling an orange along with your nose or chin and more.
Get creative. Try to only use thick-skinned fruits and vegetables on the ground or floor, so they can be cleaned for later human or animal consumption.
Put the Fruit in the Basket
For vestibular fun, play Put the Fruit in the Basket much like you would Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Hand the players pieces of fruit or vegetables to try to drop in a basket after being spun. Be sure to spin players first in one direction and then in the other for most sensitive play.
Simple Sensory Diet
Don’t forget more obvious ways of including fruits and vegetables in a child’s sensory diet.
It takes muscle work to help shop for, put away and prepare produce.
Taste tests, of course, offer, gustatory input.
Helping to make salads or to prepare vegetables and fruits offer practical life skills and tactile input.
Sucking fruit smoothies or vegetable juice through straws can be calming an organizing.
Be Wary of the Activity
Be particularly aware of how much is too much of an activity when using food. While fruits and vegetables can make effective sensory diet tools, since we still want them to be a large part of our child’s actual nutritional diet, it is best not to connect them with unpleasant experiences. Stopping activities before over-stimulation happens is important.
Don’t Be Wasteful
Be mindful of waste. While produce can be a part of excellent sensory experiences, we do not want to teach children that it is okay to waste food. Whenever possible, wash whatever fruit or vegetable is used during activities, and then prepare it to be eaten by you, your child, or at the very least, an animal that enjoys it. Or, if that won’t work, compost it.
Consult your Occupational Therapist for more ideas or for specifics on how to best tweak these ones for your own child. Then, enjoy making this month a month of more fruits and vegetables both on your plate and in your child’s sensory diets.
“September Is Fruits & Veggies–More Matters Month.” Fruits Veggies – More Matters. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.