The Confident Eater bingo for fussy eaters
I’d love to say the bingo was my idea, but it absolutely wasn’t!! It is, however, a fun concept and when I saw it for a marketing initiative (thanks Kat, from The Helpful Academy) I thought, what a great idea for introducing some fun into food.
My ethos around resolving fussy eating is very much focused on family and relaxation and fun:
– Family – the more food is at the heart of family, the easier it is to support picky eating. If eating is a communal experience that everyone looks forward to (even if some eating limited variety) it supports better eating.
– Relaxation – research shows that being relaxed is really important for eating well. If we are at all angry, upset, or anxious, we are less likely to eat.
– Fun – the more fun we have, the more relaxed we are and the more we enjoy coming to the table. It’s a circular deal! Fun can also be a gentle way to incorporate food exploration into routines, so our child becomes more comfortable around new foods.
I’ve designed a simple bingo sheet that is NOT designed to stress you out. There are no dates and only one rule (which we’ll get to) so you can use this as a fun way to experiment with a few new/different things around food.
The only rule – and it’s an important one – is that none of the exercises should be undertaken with the emphasis being on eating. Any time you enter into a food experience for the sole aim of ‘making a child eat something new’, you may as well write that on your forehead!
“We are baking these muffins, and we are going to put a bit of carrot in because you don’t eat vegetables, and this is an easier way to make you eat it” will come across loud and clear. It will add pressure to the experience and can quite possibly make it less likely to get eaten.
Instead, think of every food experience as a great way to support your child to become more comfortable around food in general and maybe around the specific food you’re using. If they eat something new, bonus. If they don’t it was NOT a waste of time.
In fact, the opposite, it was a great way to support them to get more comfortable in a lovely, engaged, and fun manner.
The Confident Eater bingo for fussy eaters
I have created a list of fun activities that I hope span the years so are appropriate for most children. You can pick as many or as few as you want and modify to suit ages and stages. It’s a great way to get us out of food ruts.
Often, when you have a picky eater, and especially one who eats a very limited diet, food becomes less fun. We can also get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. It’s soul destroying for us and boring for them.
Shaking things up is a great plan. Being out of routine and having a ‘new script’ may also enable different actions for our child. I have 100’s of stories of even extremely selective eaters who have taken an unexpected step forwards as they were out of routine.
Explanations – the how and why!
Square 1 – non-dinner food for dinner – dinner is often the most difficult meal of the day. The time it’s served (when we’re all tired and over it), the type of foods that often appear and the increased pressure to eat, the veg before bed – all contribute to more challenge.
It can be fun to go totally off the path and serve something that you would never normally serve at dinner. Maybe it’s pancakes or toasted sandwiches or muffins. It will depend on your normal dinner and your child’s range of foods.
Serving something different can be a great way to have a relaxed meal and create delight. And who doesn’t want delight at the table? It may even be a good opportunity to serve something a little different. For example, if pancakes are always with maple syrup, perhaps there can be another option to put on top.
Square 2 – oat playdoh – this is especially good if we have a child who doesn’t eat oats. As it’s completely edible you may even find there is curiosity around what it smells, or even tastes like.
Recipe – 2 parts uncooked oats, 1 part water, 1 part flour. Mix in a bowl and then knead to make into a dough. Add colour, should you wish. Keeps in the fridge for 5 days or so too!
Square 3 – food sports – using food to play games can be a fun way to encourage interacting with foods that may not be top of the comfort list. For example, pea soccer. You can have ‘nets’ at each end of a table and see who can roll, flick, or blow their pea with a straw into the net. Or perhaps it’s who can roll a wheel of carrot the furthest.
Please let me know your awesome ideas!
Square 4 – food bar – put together a food bar for a meal. Pick your child’s favourite foods and have a sandwich, pasta, or taco bar, for example. Put out all the ingredients that build the meal and have everyone build their own.
It’s a great way to cater to both your child and yourself as you can have salad or spicey options available as well as more basic foods.
Square 1 – muffin tin dinner – if you haven’t tried this before, it can be a lot of fun. Rather than serving food on plates, you can put little bits in a muffin tin (if you don’t have one you can use stiff cup cake cases in a baking tray or dish).
Having lots of little bits rather than the standard plate can be a lot of fun. You may also be able to serve something a small step outside the comfort zone.
Square 2 – pancake pictures – make pancakes or crepes and use cookie cutters or knives for older children to create pictures. You can have raisins, choc chips, yoghurt or cut up fruit, for example, to add detail.
You can always substitute flattened bread (use a rolling pin to press it flat) if pancakes are a pain or too far out of the comfort zone.
Square 3 – Tic Tac Toe (noughts & crosses – using food for this simple game can be fun. Celery, carrots, Cheerios, cherry tomatoes, what will be your counter?
Handling foods that are not comfortably eaten is always good for building food confidence.
Square 4 – ice cream in a bag – this is a fun family activity for children of all ages. And well, ice cream!
Recipe – ¼ cup of milk, ¼ cup cream (you can use all milk), ½ tbs sugar (add more to taste), ½ tsp vanilla, ½ cup rock salt, ice.
Put the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla into a zip lock bag and seal after removing all the air. Double bag. Place mixture in a bigger bag with ice. Double bag to prevent an accident. Use gloves or a towel to hold the bag and shake for 15-20 mins when the liquid turns to ice cream.
Square 1 – picnic (indoor) – if picnics are something you do regularly, consider an indoor picnic. A rug spread on the floor can be really fun. If the weather is nice and you can move to the garden, local park, or beach then why not too?
Square 2 – baking – for some families, baking is a normal part of the routine and for others, there is not the time or the will! If you don’t normally bake it’s a great opportunity to have children interacting with food. Perhaps it’s a special cake or cookies.
If you do bake often, what about searching for something a little different?
Or perhaps it’s the same recipe but you find some exciting ways to decorate the top. Anything from a sticker to an action figure to an amazing, piped extravaganza.
Square 3 – towers – build towers with anything from carrot to crackers to chicken nuggets. Again, interacting with food in a fun way is a great way to build comfort.
Square 4 – home-restaurant – you can go as complicated and fancy or as basic as you wish. Create a menu and serve the children with candles and wine optional
Or, perhaps the children are in charge and create a menu and serve you?
Square 1 – grazing table – let the children help choose which food to add and then building a grazing table can be a lot of fun. Use some butchers paper/baking paper or a big board and let them go crazy creating a meal with crackers, cheese, salad, chopped sausages or whatever foods are a fit for your family.
Square 2 – jewellery – we can make necklaces, bracelets, or rings from all sorts of foods. Cheerios (the cereal kind) or penne pasta can be threaded onto cotton. Or use a needle and thread and push it through corn kernels. Capsicum can be cut into rings to make the perfect bracelet.
Perhaps they are for you or the action figure?
Square 3 – no cutlery meal – and this wouldn’t be half as much fun if it’s sandwiches rather than spaghetti bolognaise! If you are comfortable with sticking your face into the plate that’s great. If not perhaps you use toothpicks or straws or an action figure sword …
Getting messy, having fun, and seeing a parent with spaghetti on their nose is the best part.
Square 4 – toast/cracker challenge – this is a great way to gently encourage contemplating new foods. Have crackers or toast squares, lay out some toppings, anything from tuna to Vegemite and let your child decide what goes on yours.
In turn you decide what goes on top of theirs, remembering not to push them to do something that is uncomfortable for them.
All these activities are designed with fun and a change in routines in mind.
Please share how you go with me. I would love to know what went really well, or what didn’t. And of course, if you come up with new ideas I love to hear them. What works for you could be magic for another parent too.
Please feel free to share with other parents. Even those without fussy eaters could derive a lot of fun from this.
You can download the bingo here: You can download the bingo here: https://theconfidenteater.com/the-confident-eater-bingo/
Just copy and paste.
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/