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Even at a very young age, a child’s sense of taste is well developed. This is the time to introduce your little one to different tastes and textures of healthy foods.

As toddlers begin to unearth the curiosities of the world around them, their senses begin to grow in exploration. These mind and matter connections help build a database of identity and comprehension of their ever expanding world in their memory.

Even as adults, a particular taste may ignite a memory from our childhood. It may put a smile or a frown on our faces (depending on whether it was a good or bad memory!) and we would share it with our children as a form of humour or lesson. How can we help a toddler to grow this bank of information for herself?

A child’s ability to taste begins even while in the womb. Yes, your growing baby in your womb can taste what you eat and drink. Experts suggest that parents or caregivers encourage children to try new foods by exposing them to different tastes, textures and smells through fun and engaging activities. This will help the little ones build knowledge, trust and responsibility of what they place into their mouths.

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Sensory play is highly suggested as the way to journey through this exploration of taste and texture. You may dread the thought of handing your toddler a spoon and watching as he splatters his food all over the chair and floor and even on you… but that is not such a bad thing, actually.

Psychologists say that allowing your child to have their hands in their food will activate their senses, thereby facilitating observation and encouraging children to process information while they play, create, investigate and explore. As the child develops an understanding of the textures, it helps them build positive pathways in the brain to say that it is safe to engage with this food. Sensory play helps shape what is positive and safe in a child’s brain. Ultimately, shaping the choices children make will impact their behaviour, which can help them to make safer and healthier food choices in the future.

So the next time you get your toddler into that dining chair with a bowl full of porridge, oats or milk, let him dig in and enjoy the meal, even though he may make a mess and play with his food more than eat it. (Just keep an eye out so that your toddler doesn’t choke, and make sure the food isn’t hot enough to scald.) After all, kids learn best through play!

This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of HealthToday.