Let Them Grow: Three Edible Creative Free-Play Recipes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Eat What You Play!

Now that my newborn is becoming a toddler overnight, I have begun to include her in toddler–esque art projects. This is exciting in so many ways. As all kids, she explores, experiments and creates every waking moment. Like every one-year-old she loves sensory exposure at its best- mostly by mouth. So, the question became how do I include her without poisoning her, letting her choke, or dumbing down toddler activities? Because she mouths everything and taste it just the same, I decided to create a few sensory activities that would be safe and fun for both infants and toddlers. And what do they both love? Food!

Yes, playing with food if often discouraged, but the more we say “no,” the more it happens… well at least with a one-year-old. I have found that the following three edible creative free-play recipes, with some alternating themed play pieces, can keep a baby busy and let her explore safely and freely.  Before creating the textures, have a play tray , a smock, wet cloths to clean up and water available to drink when the tasting gets intense.


To create an edible swap, I found that any greens that are finely chopped worked great. You can puree the discards of the kale and cucumber peelings, or just use them chopped. Add cooked black beans and long spaghetti noodles to make your swap come to life.

After you have a base, you can dye it with a little natural food coloring to create a realistic swamp like play. Add plastic frogs, toy alligators, rubber snakes, or any non-chokeable toys to this mix. Encourage your child to identify and find the animals. Make the animals signs or sounds. Encourage creative free-play!

Dirt Dwellers

Using cooked brown rice and assorted cooked beans, you can create an amazing earth like texture that is also quite palatable. Bring in the earthworms (edible or plastic), little spoons for shovels and let your child dig away.

Change it up by adding any plastic or rubber toy animals that you can find. Pigs love mud; most farm animals can be seen doing a little dirt loving now and again, so be creative. Add cookie or cracker crumbles to increase the sensory play. Again, encourage you child to find the dirty dog that says “woof -woof.”

Water World

Gelatin is a fascinating substance, even for adults. It is strange in so many ways. Making gelatin is easy and making it fun is even easier. I decided to create underwater world using water themed creatures sunk in the depths of a blue gelatin mold. I used whatever water themed toys I had. My favorite is seaweed, sharks, fish and shells.

By creating food-based art, it allows you to let your in-between baby toddler join in, have fun and explore without inhibiting their process. Food-based art, like any art, gets messy! But if it gets in their mouth at least you don’t have to worry.

[Photo credit: (cc) Carolien Dekeersmaeker] Originally Published August 26, 2015


Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programing for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.

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