Meal Time can be Fun – How to turn it into a multi-sensory experience

Apple on tree

Why? Oh why is it that yesterday’s favourite food has today become the most hated thing on the plate?

Eating should be a wonderful, happy and satisfying experience.The reality is that meal times with young children aren’t as much fun as they should be and often give the impression that we are engaged in some sort of war where the floor gets covered in ammunition (peas, tomato sauce or more) and ends up looking like a battle field!

Can you feel a power game brewing?

We adults have limited time, precise ingredients and a clear idea of how much our child should eat to fit the ‘healthy eating plan’ we designed.

Children also have a desire to be in command and they quickly find out the power they have over us when they refuse to eat or display good table manners.

Give him some power of decision and offer small choices:

  • let him choose his plate (one for him, one for you) or his bib.
  • Let her hand out utensils and decide wether she will eat all the carrots or all the broccoli.

It is important for the adult to gently explain that what has been prepared is what is on the menu. You have been kind to prepare a meal, it is essential to be firm. There is no need to rush and prepare something different just because your child doesn’t want to eat what has been served  – experts say that children will not let themselves starve and it does help if the child is not overly tired or overly hungry.

  • Avoid being sucked into the power game and try to keep the mood light and playful as much as possible.


Because studies have shown that we are twice as likely to purchase a juice carton that has a concave  :-) smile-like line than a convex :-( frown-like one! Feeling doubtful? Read on for more ideas on how to entice your child to eat.


Experiments in food marketing conducted by Oxford based psychologist Charles Spence have shown the extent to which our taste buds are influenced by our sense of vision, sound and touch, such as:

– Curved shapes can enhance sweetness to the point that diners reported that a cheesecake tasted 20% sweeter when it was eaten from a round white plate than from a square one.

– A strawberry flavoured mousse tasted 10% sweeter when served from a white container rather than a black one.

– The weight of a plastic yogurt container made the yogurt seem about twenty-five per cent more filling, and that bittersweet toffee tasted 10% more bitter if it eaten while listening to low-pitched music.

– The colour blue was making dishes taste significantly saltier (and the researchers were considering serving tomato soup in blue containers to palliate elderly people’s failing taste buds and stop them from adding too much salt!).

– The appropriate soundtrack can intensify the flavour of a food:

Inspiring celebrity ‘molecular’ chef Heston Blumenthal’s iconic “Sound of the Sea” dish, for which diners at his restaurant, the Fat Duck, in Bray, are presented with an iPod loaded with a recording of crashing waves and screeching gulls to listen to while enjoying an artfully presented plate of seafood.

Have you ever noticed how the crunch of an apple, the fizz of carbonated water or the rustle of a bag of potato-chips can make us want to have some too?

Why not use that information to help our children eat? Make eating fun while touching, measuring, picking, counting, sharing and learning about taste and language.

Much of what we teach our children is done by mirroring:

Let him see you eat, hear you make delectable sounds as you bite into the crunchy apple or carrot you would like him to eat. If he doesn’t eat it this time, it might tickle his auditory memory for next time you offer him an apple.

  • Let her feed you – “One for you, one for me”. Count the bites and the pieces of broccoli.
  • Let him choose the colour of the plate,  match the sets of spoon, fork, knife and plate.
  • Allow him time to arrange the food on the plate into pretty pictures: place one pea at the end of each carrot stick.
  • Make swirls as you mix a spoon of white yogurt into the green apple puree.
  • Measure the length of the spaghetti, cut them in half, eat the longer one first.

Engage with your child, and why not play some soft music of crashing waves if the menu du jour is fish!

The article “Accounting for Taste – How packaging can alter our taste buds” was published in the New Yorker.   And just for fun, if you are you sure you can hear the difference between champagne and fizzy water being poured, go to the very end of the article and take the audio test!

If you have been inspired to create Heston Blumenthal like ‘mise en scène’, do share your ideas in the comment box below!


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