5 Reasons why you should let your child get messy with food


Hi there I’m Emma and I’ve been working in the Early Years Sector for over 18 years and have a wealth of experience when it comes to sensory play, fussy eaters and getting messy! I even have a BA in Early Years too! Originally from the UK, I’ve been right here in Adelaide for the last 3 years delivering my own messy play business.

If you’d like to get to know more about me head over to my “Hi there, I’m Emma” blog post.

First Senses was created back in the UK and came from my working in local communities in the UK and this was always a pack away session we delivered to the wider community to engage families and spread the awareness of the benefits of sensory play for young children. (It’s been around a long time, for sure!)

Hi, my name is Jessica (but I’m more of a Jess!). I am a qualified and vastly experienced Food and Nutrition/Home Economics teacher. I have a first class Honours Degree (Bachelor of Science) in ‘Food, Nutrition and Consumer Sciences’. I also have a Post Grad Certificate of Education. I have spent my entire life submerged in the food industry in various ways, I was brought up on a chocolate farm no less! I am from Wales, U.K and ADORE Adelaide, which is now home for me and my young family!

If you want to know more about me, my credentials, my background in the food industry and have a fun read – head over to my “Meet me” blog!

Cook n Create has been born from my love and passion for food, nutrition and cooking combined with my enthusiasm for teaching and enriching the minds of children, of all ages!

I LOVE working with kiddies and helping them ignite sparks of passion and watching their cognitive development progress and their skills being built and refined whilst having a truly great time!  I see this as a real privilege. All Cook n Create sessions have been designed to ensure that EVERY child can access the learning and can thrive.

Working with children and teaching them to cook, to enjoy food and to have fun with food is my passion! 

So, why is this collaboration so amazing?

Individually we have a oodles of expertise and experience, we are masters of our trades and we are in love with what we get to do! Together, we hope to really blow you away and convert you to the messy side! So.. let’s do this!

Sensory activities facilitate exploration and builds your child’s creativity and imagination. It naturally encourages children to use scientific process while they play, create, investigate, and explore their surroundings. If children are allowed to explore textures and sensations outside of their comfort zones and at their own pace it develops a trust and understanding of their senses and helps to build positive pathways into the brain which let them know that it is safe to engage with this food. Over time, if children are allowed to engage in different activities with a range of different textures/feels they will build a foundation of knowledge that will last a lifetime! 

“I feel that by giving a child ownership of their learning, you are creating a love for learning, so deep that they naturally strive to learn more and reach for the next milestone. It is so empowering for children to see their brilliant ideas come to fruition” Jess

1. It enhances their physical, mental and creative development (This is our no1 because.. it’s SUCH a big deal!)

Physical– This includes: Fine motor skills, pincer grasp, building small muscles, finite skills, eating, hand eye coordination. Gross motor skills – involves larger muscles, so mixing, whisking, cutting, stirring, pouring etc – these are all ways in which children are experimenting and discovering as well as developing physically. 

Mental and emotional development– Focus, concentration, numeracy. It is important for emotional skills and helps to develop self control and emotional regulation. Allowing your child to explore with different flavours, textures etc allows them to strengthen their sensory processing skills as well as their nervous systems.

According to Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, “A child’s greatest self-control occurs in play” (1978, p.99). He proposed that pretend play, in particular, could be a leading factor in the development of the child’s ability to self-regulate, and messy play is a great way to encourage this pretend play.

Creative development – Creativity is SO important in developing the problem solving part of your childs brain. It enhances their innovative thinking and allows them to explore their ideas and create something they are proud of. 

Studies have shown that children who sit in a high chair/at a table and get messy with food, can help them to learn about food and non-solid substances quicker. This is an important step for their brain development and impacts the way children learn. How amazing is this for their little brains! Therefore, letting your child get messy with their food is not just about eating (and it is not just to annoy you), it is an important part of child development.

2. Sensory 

Did you know that eating is the most sensory task a child will do? Whilst children are eating, their brains are processing all the sensory information from the food. This includes the colours they see, the aromas they smell, the feel they touch as well as mouthfeel and the flavours they taste. For children this can be an overwhelming experience and can be why they get upset or “misbehave” at mealtimes. 

Sensory play is SO IMPORTANT. There is so much research (trust us, we’ve trawled it!) to show that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brains pathways. Not only has ‘Research’ told us that, we are both SO privileged to experience this development in front of our very eyes on a daily basis. 

“When you allow a child to investigate and explore new textures, feelings, tastes, colours etc at their own pace, and encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and ‘Norm’ the effects of this are truly breathtaking” Jess. 

We have watched children flourish and grow in confidence before our eyes… it’s easy to see why we are so passionate about what we do and why we love it so very much. 

Sensory play is known to help children’s abilities to complete more complex learning tasks, it supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills as well as social interaction. It also has the ability to enhance memory, calm an anxious or frustrated child and helps children discover their own sensory likes and dislikes and understand different sensory attributes e.g hot, cold, crunchy, slimy etc.

By providing children with a variety of experiences with food so in a sensory play situation we can encourage children to explore freely and process the sensory information at a slower pace. This gives children the opportunity to decipher their likes and dislikes in tastes but also allows them to explore the environment around them too.

3. Environmentally

Playing with food is not supposed to be all neat and tidy. Children learn through making what we call a “mess” (“I even made a business from making a mess so whatever works” says Emma). Children should be able to explore freely even if that that means they wearing their food!! It’s all about the process of learning. Before exploring with food there are multiple steps they need to take, for example chew food, interact with the food physically, smell it, touch it and then taste it.

In a nutshell, when children are given time and space to explore and discover their own likes and dislikes, the development is astonishing!

4. Normalise

Children who feel safe to touch, squash and play with their food become more familiar with the food and are more likely to snack on this later. For example babies who are exposed to a wide variety of flavours and textures early are more likely to accept new foods in a variety of presentations. This will ultimately minimize any fears that may develop when presented with a new or unfamiliar food, flavours and textures.

For toddlers who may be fussy eaters start with messy activities involving dry textures. This is perfect for children who may be sensory adverse to wet textures. These textures also won’t leave a mess on their hands for example dry pasta, lentils and rice is always a winner! These activities may seem simple, but they are imperative for helping your child build a positive relationship with food.

Even as children get older, textures, flavours, and even the feel of foods can be unsettling and overwhelming as they navigate their way through their school years and establish their adult likes and dislikes. Encouraging children and teens to help in the kitchen, and exposing them to a variety of textures, flavours and feelings can help set them up with healthy eating habits for life. It’s also about not taking it too seriously, letting them set their boundaries.. then nudging them gently a little further over the line. 

“When we make play the foundation of learning, we teach the whole child” Vince Gowmon. 

How beautiful is that quote?! When a child isn’t forced to learn by rote or talked at or even restricted by conforming, but rather they get to learn through themselves, explore their own senses and LEARN about themselves. This learning hits the very core of their being – you can’t ask for more than that!

5. Creativity (last but by no means least!)

Did you know that messy play fosters curiosity, imagination and exploration? There is no right way to carry out messy play, it is all about letting children explore and experiment with different objects and raw materials without any end goals to restrict them. Children’s imaginations can run wild and they can spend a long time exploring these, making their own discoveries, stimulating their curiosity and developing their knowledge. With messy food play, the sensory experience also helps children to understand their senses. By exploring how things feel, smell and taste, this type of play nurtures an awareness and understanding of the world that surrounds them, amazing right?

Letting your child learn through exploring and encouraging their creativity is AMAZING! Don’t believe us? Want to see for yourselves the magic of getting messy and exploring foods? check out our sessions!

We have had a blast working together on this blog and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we have! 

Thanks – and, get messy!

Jess and Emma