Were you ever told to NOT play with your food?
Maybe as a kid you didn’t love every meal and found yourself poking at the green things on your plate while an adult encouraged you otherwise.
Maybe you’re a parent or caregiver now and you get frustrated, seeing food go to waste as kids put it in their mouths, spit it out, or fidget at the table instead of eating.
Or maybe you’re an adult who’s number of accepted foods has really gone down as you feel grossed out by, or even afraid, to eat certain foods.
It may be an old cliché, the image of parents at a dinner table telling their kids not to play with their food. But, it’s also a justifiable reality for many as the cost of groceries soar, plus nobody likes to see rejected the food they offer.
But what if, regardless of age, playing with food actually helped more food to be accepted??
My name is Krystal Merrells. I’m a registered dietitian and a concussion warrior in Ontario, Canada.
I’ve had multiple concussions and I’ve seen how food can become this big stressful thing after a brain injury. I am here to help you move towards feeling good with food.
This is Food Love. A 14-day mini-series exploring your relationship with food.
Today is day 13: Play
Listen, I know picky eating. Because my name is Krystal and I am a former picky eater!
My mom can surely attest to this.
When I was a kid I was the slowest eater in town. It seemed to take me so much longer to eat than my friends. And when it came to certain meals, I spent a lot of time picking out all the bits I didn’t like.
Mainly onions. But a lot of other things too like celery, rhubarb, and strawberries!
In fact, it wasn’t until my 20s that I opened up and eventually came to eating and enjoying everyone’s favourite berry.
It’s funny to think my first official job as a dietitian was at a Children’s Hospital, where among many other things I supported parents with their “picky eaters.”
I will say that picky eating really isn’t a sign of anything bad.
In fact, most kids who are thought to be “picky” are really just in the early phases of developing their relationship with food.
Like, when a person starts dating. It’s less often someone commits to loving the first person they date! Instead, they date or hang out with a number of different people to get an idea of what flavour they most like: someone hot or cold. Someone bland or spicy. Someone soft or rigid…
I think you can see the analogy I’m forming here…
When it comes to kids and accepting foods, it would be weird if they always loved a new food at first taste.
Think about it. Kids are being handed what they see as unknown objects, and being told “put this in your mouth and swallow it.”
It makes sense they’d be skeptical.
Imagine if someone gave you an unidentified plant or animal product and said “ingest this.”
No, there’s a sort of courtship that happens first with food, where you examine it and learn about it, to develop trust between you and that food.
And just like it may take 10 or 20 or more dates before the relationship is labelled “official,” it can take the same amount of encounters with food before a child trusts it’s safe and a part of their world.
The same can likely apply to adults too. However as adults we have so much more experience, including negative experiences that can create these worrying narratives in our head about different foods.
Things like “I read a blog once that said tomatoes were bad so now I don’t need them.”
Or “One time there was a dead bug in my lettuce, so I just can’t touch it again.”
Or “This wellness guru said not to eat any foods with the letters “I” or “O” in them or else my head will explode!”
OK, that last one was a bit exaggerated…
… A bit.
Regardless, I’ve known many an adult today who if they were decades younger would be called “picky eaters.” But now, these same adults might be viewed as “health-conscious,” avoiding a long list of foods.
When really these adults may be dealing with serious aversions to food that causes fear and anxiety around eating.
I have definitely seen this post concussion/TBI, especially if the person unfortunately had to deal with nausea and vomiting from the injury.
So what’s a person to do??
Well if there’s significant anxiety, fear, and food aversions going on, regardless of the person’s age working with trained professionals in this area would be key to prevent malnutrition, deficiencies, and disordered eating.
Otherwise, to grow your relationship with food — bond with it – I suggest getting creative and playing.
Think about some date activities people might do: paint night, board games, movies, museums, bowling…
Whatever it is, the date activity is creating a shared experience between the people involved.
And yes, we can do the same with food!
When working with kids and adults alike we might suggest interactions with food with zero commitment or pressure of eating it.
This might be doing crafts with food items. Like learning to draw a fruit bowl, or making a mosaic with different dried beans, lentils, and peas.
This might be playing games with food. This can be guessing games like Pictionary with food items or meals, it could be assembling a meal out of random ingredients, or it could be using foods as playing pieces on board games.
For an after-school program, I once modified the game twister to help teach about different food groups.
Creating a shared experience with food without eating might also be doing math with food items or recipes, learning fun facts about the food, or just having the food you are unsure about present during meal times as a “guest,” or eating the food with others socially.
In other words, this is playing with your food!
So your reflection today is:
Regardless of whether you’re picky or not, how can you expand your food repertoire? Your food vocabulary?
How can you interact with food in different ways to have more experiences that help you grow accustomed to a variety of different foods?
How can you rewrite the meaning of “playing with your food?”
It is perfectly OK to still not like certain foods. I still really don’t like celery.
But I respect celery.
And I’m open to trying it again in new ways with no pressure of commitment.
Best in food love,
This was the last installment of this audio mini-series in this form!
Tomorrow for the 14th day, we are in fact going to play with some food. At the Valentine’s Day live event!
A recording will be posted on the page for day 14, but be sure to attend live if you can. The link has been sent to you if you have signed up to the email list for this mini-series.
Thank you so much for being here!