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La Jolla resident’s new book gives picky young eaters ways to ‘Play with Your Food’

“Play with Your Food” is La Jolla resident Sarah Appleman's second book.
La Jolla resident Sarah Appleman authored her second book, “Play with Your Food,” to help parents, caregivers, teachers and others who work with children who are picky eaters.
(Courtesy)

Who hasn’t seen a kid who is a picky eater — only wanting chicken nuggets or not eating foods that touch the plate?

To help parents, caregivers, teachers and others who work with children who resist certain foods, La Jolla resident Sarah Appleman authored her second book, “Play with Your Food,” which was published in May.

Appleman is a pediatric occupational therapist of 20 years, with two children at La Jolla schools. Her book draws from her experience as a therapist and a mother and includes simple recipes that involve the child in the cooking process, games to help children open up to new foods, and activities to help improve sensory skills.

Sarah Appleman's book “Play with Your Food” includes recipes that involve children in the cooking process, games and more.
Sarah Appleman’s book “Play with Your Food” draws on her experience as a pediatric occupational therapist and a mother, including recipes that involve children in the cooking process, games and other activities.
(Courtesy)

Moving away from the “If you don’t eat this, you won’t get that” approach, the book focuses on activities that get to the root of why a child won’t eat certain things.

“When your child isn’t eating, there is usually an underlying cause. They aren’t just stubborn,” Appleman said. “As an occupational therapist, I realized some kids have tactile sensitivity. They don’t like certain textures of clothing or don’t like the feeling of sand … and that it is going to affect what they eat.

“But food aversion could be anything. Some kids don’t want to eat hot food or cold food ... foods cannot touch. That doesn’t mean they have food aversion or need help, but kids can form anxiety or other issues around eating. If they are that controlling over their food, that carries over.”

Starter games for younger children involve taking plastic eggs and hiding foods in them, and when the children find them, they have to smell or lick what is inside.

“The child can hide foods they already like and the parents can also integrate foods they might not like,” Appleman said. “They don’t have to eat it and don’t feel forced, but they at least have to smell it or taste it, and that can get them curious.”

Another game, spawned at Appleman’s own house, is the pepper game. “We slice bell peppers of different colors and we would feed them to our kids with their eyes closed, and they have to guess the color,” she said. “We had a friend whose child didn’t want to eat certain foods but came home raving about the pepper game, and that got her started with trying new foods.”

Children play the pepper game, in which participants have to guess the color of a bell pepper by the taste.
(Courtesy)

Activities for older children include cutting sandwiches into unique shapes or having a child participate in the food-making process.

“Kids mimic what they see, so if they see parents cooking and eating, they are more likely to want to participate,” Appleman said. “It’s not just about recipes, it’s therapeutic games. You can’t replace texture, and so many kids are playing on iPads and only feeling a screen. Kids playing Fruit Ninja [a game in which players swipe across the screen to slice fruit] isn’t the same as cutting actual fruit. I want kids to develop good motor skills. And these recipes and activities help with that.”

The book includes a note section for parents to jot down the activities that worked.

“In addition to helping with not being open to certain foods, this book is about creating food memories, working together and making mealtime less stressful,” Appleman said. “And it’s not just for children who have been diagnosed with food aversion; it’s for any kid.”

“Play with Your Food” is sold for $19.99 through online booksellers like Amazon and on Appleman’s website playwithyourfoodbook.com. ◆