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Boy sensory smell carrot

Sensory activities

Exploring veg with their senses is a fantastic way to encourage children to have a positive association with veggies! Find some of our favourite ideas for how to do this below.

Why sensory exploration?

Engaging positively in a no-pressure way with vegetables is key to the long term goal of getting kids to eat more veg. After some hands-off engagement like art and games, a more hands-on playful way to engage with veg for kids is through their senses.

Sensory exploration of vegetables and a constant dialogue with our children about this is crucial to getting them to eat more veg. Taking every small opportunity to just ask a child about the look, smell, sound and feel of a veg as you see them at the shops, put them away at home, prep them for dinner, or wherever else you can find a moment, is an ideal way to normalise veggies and even make them fun!

On top of this, asking your child for these descriptions will give you an insight into what their food preferences are and help you in choosing the right veg that your child is most likely to enjoy.

If you need some inspiration on where to start, here are some of our favourite ideas…

Cooking some broccoli with dinner? Why not explore what broccoli feels and looks like when prepared in different ways? Keep back a couple of raw florets, and lay it out next to a couple of your cooked ones. Ask your child what they remind them of in different forms, and encourage them to touch and smell them to see if they feel and smell different to each other, too. If they feel up to it, they could even try a little nibble or lick of the different ones to explore the varied tastes and textures, and see which one is their favourite!

Next time you are prepping a butternut squash to add to a meal, ask your child to help you explore what a whole and halved squash look and feel like. What can you see? Encourage your child to use their imagination and descriptive language. Try feeling the difference between the inside and outside of the squash with your hands, and how does it make your hands feel after touching the inside? Try touching the seeds and seeing what they remind you of. Better yet, try exploring the difference in feel between some of the raw one, and some when it has been cooked – what are the differences and similarities? What do they remind you of? Have fun with it and see if they would like to try a little piece of the cooked one with you afterwards to describe the taste, too.

Cabbage is perfect for exploring with sight and touch, especially red cabbage, since it is so visually fun! If you have one on hand as you prep food or put away shopping, see if your child will join you in exploring it. Describe a whole cabbage and one cut in half to each other. What do you see? What colours are there? What patterns? What does it look like? Touch the outer layers and the cut part – does one feel smooth and one rough? How else would you describe how it feels? If you feel up to trying some, take a little piece and chew it, and then stick your tongue out when you’ve swallowed – ask your child if your tongue is purple yet? No? Then try again and see how purple you can go! See if your child wants to try making their tongue purple by trying some, too!

Buying a cauliflower at the shops? Ask your child to help you pick one out. As they explore the different heads, ask them to describe what is different about the ones they see and what is the same? What does it remind them of? If they pick one up, how does it feel? Is it rough, smooth, lumpy, hard? Do the leaves feel different to the florets? What does it smell like if they sniff it?

Why not use carrots as a way of exploring smell? Next time you are chopping carrots, try tossing a few slices or sticks in a little cinnamon and try taking a bite of a carrot with your nose pinched, and another without. Can you and your child notice the difference? 80% of flavour is actually in the smell, so this is a great way to explore flavour! If your child doesn’t feel up to taking a bite, they could lick instead, or sniff a carrot slice with cinnamon and one without to compare how adding flavouring impacts our experience of veggies.

When you next buy courgettes, explore them with your child before you put them away. Use your sense of sight by getting a whole courgette (if you can, get a green and a yellow one to compare colours) and having a few slices, too. What does the whole courgette look like or remind you of? What does the slice look like? Use your imagination and descriptive language to tell each other what you see.

Got some cucumber out to chop for a lunchbox or snack? Why not use it to explore sound and hearing with your child? Get a few cucumber sticks – some with skin and the soft middle cut out so they are “crunchier” and some without skin that are “softer”, and a few slices that might be a mix of both. Crunch them with your child and ask them to describe the level of noise (adding earphones to this can be a great way to amplify the sound). If they aren’t comfortable putting the cucumber in their mouth, they can snap a bigger piece by their ear and describe what they hear.

Before you add frozen peas to your meal, set aside a handful and let your child explore them through touch, feeling how cold it is fresh out of the freezer, then how it warms up in their hands. See if the feel reminds them of anything. Perhaps it feels like tiny pebbles or necklace beads? Encourage their creativity and imagination and see if cooking a few and offering them warm and cooked changes their mind about how they look and feel.

Bought some mixed peppers? Before putting them away at home, grab a couple of different coloured ones and explore what they look like with your child – what colours do you see, what shapes, what do they remind you of? Encourage creativity and imagination, and allow them to explore the veg with their senses as they describe it, perhaps shaking, tearing, sniffing or prodding it. Try cutting one of the peppers in half lengthways and see what they think it looks like now – do they see a scary face or a volcano? Let them be curious and come up with mad ideas so they are having lots of fun with it!

Buying sweetcorn when shopping with your child? Challenge them to see how many different types of sweetcorn they can find? Have they spotted fresh baby corn? Fresh corn cobs? Frozen ones? Frozen kernels? Tinned ones? Ask your child if they think they will all taste the same? Look the same? Feel the same? Which do they think they would prefer? If you are lucky enough to find loose corn cobs in a supermarket or grocer, encourage your child to touch it and see what it reminds them of? Let your child choose the type to bring home and put in a meal if you can.

Looking for tomatoes at the shops? Ask your child to see how many different types they can find. Have they spotted different shapes, sizes and colours? What does each type remind them of? Which do they think look tastiest? Try to buy the kind they are most drawn to, plus one other type if you can, to bring home in order to test whether they really are the tastiest if they are up to trying one!