Updated: May 23, 2022
Taste-Safe Sensory Play
Taste-safe sensory play seems to be very trendy at the moment, and – I don’t know about you – but my Instagram feed is FULL of people sharing their “taste-safe” play set-ups and ideas.
But what is ‘taste-safe’ play and how can you provide your child with ‘taste-safe’ options?
Taste-safe sensory play is often described as “the use of sensory play items that you would be happy for a mouthing baby or toddler to put into/explore with their mouth” HOWEVER, personally, I don’t really hold with this definition; for me, taste-safe play means using, in sensory play, things you would be happy for your child to EAT, so: not just things that you are happy for them to mouth, but rather things you happen for them to actually consume, because: they will! I think if you follow this mantra, you guarantee the safety of your child whilst they play and, as a parent/caregiver, that’s all you really want, isn't it?
As for what you can use for taste-safe sensory play – you really don’t have to look further than your food cupboard, fridge or pantry. Remember, just as you would if you were serving any type of food to your small person, always make sure whatever you’re using is in date, caters to any food allergies your child may have and is of a size appropriate to their developmental stage in terms of chewing, swallowing etc.
There are a wealth of foods that make fab taste-safe sensory play components; here are just a few ideas:
Cereal makes a brilliant taste-safe sensory base. Bran Flakes, Weetabix, Shreddies, Cheerios and Cornflakes (and the non-branded equivalents!) are all great options and work really well in play.
Weetabix and Shreddies make great haystacks and construction boulders for small worlds, and Cheerios can be used to great effect in fine-motor threading activities.
Porridge oats are another nice option, but be sure to sieve them first to get rid of the dustiest bits, and did you know that you can make brilliant edible play sand in less than a few minutes by finely blending cereal, just look at Helen’s (@family_that_craft) blended Cheerios sand being used here for mark-making.
How cute is @come.play.with.annie.may ’s cereal owl?
Dried Fruit can make a superb addition to sensory play: dried banana, mango, goji berries, cranberries, apples and of course, raisins are all healthy “snacktivity” options to be incorporated into sensory play.
Fresh fruit brings a multitude of sensory experiences to play. Why not try using fresh citrus slices in your play, or making a fruit punch tray for Little One to explore?
Frozen berries make a tasty taste-safe addition to play, but of course, do allow them to thaw a little once they’ve come out of the freezer – looking after a small person can be complicated enough, without a trip to A and E with frostbite and am icy raspberry welded to your child!
Citrus punch set up by @ourearlyyearsjourney.
Banana Chips @miss_gramage
Frozen, or cooked and cooled vegetables can be fun to incorporate into your play set-ups, with peas, greens and mashed potato always proving favourites: just look at how @ourearlyyearsjourney has used cabbage in this cow-themed tray!
Seeds are good contenders for taste-safe play: linseed, sunflower, pumpkin and chia seeds all work really well, and you can make a fabulously gloopy edible slime from chia seeds, which is exactly what Lauren (@clothmadmum1993) has done here with this amazing lizard landscape tray!
If you want to make slime, just watch TrayPlayToolkits' 10minute chia seed slime recipe HERE!
Flour makes a fab sensory base, but it’s worth remembering that, in rare cases, it can contain traces of pathogens like e.coli and salmonella. Heating it in the microwave for two minutes, stirring in-between, will kill off anything like that and therefore make your raw flour safe to use.
You can make a great mouldable ‘Moon Sand’ or ‘Cloud Dough’ (as shown above in this cute tray play from @catkintoys) with flour or cornflour too; here’s Catkin’s easy-peasy recipe for you:
You’ll need: 8 tbsp flour or cornflour
1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
A few drops food colouring (optional)
Mix the oil (and food colouring) together.
Add the oil to the flour and use your fingertips to rub the mixture together until the oil is fully mixed in and the mixture is dry to touch.
Other Powders and Grains
Hot chocolate powder, milk powder, desiccated coconut, polenta, semolina and cous cous (shown by @catkintoys in the photo on the right) are also great to use as sensory bases, and make good look-a-likey mud, snow or sand, respectively; in this picture (left) Kalley (come.play.with.annie.may) has used desiccated coconut to create this cute yeti’s face!
Custard, Rice Pudding, Aquafaba and Angel Delight
Custard, rice pudding, aquafaba and angel delight are absolutely guaranteed child-pleasers when it comes to choosing a sensory base. Most kids absolutely love playing with something messy and gloppy and these three food cupboard classics definitely fill that brief! As always, when giving your child something you’ve cooked through, remember to allow the food to cool before handing it over to your excited small person.
I love this lamb-themed tuff tray, using rice pudding and this adorable ‘love’ set up, using Angel Delight, both by the very clever, @come.play.with.annie.may
Tapioca is another really good food to use in sensory play; just look how beautiful these beads look in @trayplaytoolkits’ frogspawn tray and in @clothmadmum1993’s tropical reef!
Cooked tapioca needs a while to cool down, so be sure to factor that in to your play time.
Pasta and Baked Beans
Dried and dyed or painted pasta has become a bit of staple in the world of sensory play but, if it’s not a taste-safe option. If you want to use pasta for mouthing children, you need to cook it; and if you want to add colour, you can use food colouring to dye it (as Lauren has done here – shown right), or mix in a pasta sauce (tomato/pesto etc.)
Just look at how much fun Maisie is having getting to grips with spaghetti in this fun set up from @ourearlyyearsjourney, shown left!
Another store cupboard staple that is actually a sensory play bundle of fun in disguise: cold baked beans aren’t just for school teachers sat in bath tubs come Comic Relief time, they’re also a lot of taste-safe fun for small people to play with!
Jelly makes a fun element to experiment with not only for its wibbly-wobbly consistency but also because you can set toys into it for Little One to dig out and explore. Check out how much Arlo (left) and Annie (right) are enjoying playing with jelly!
Ice Cream, Squirty Cream, Candyfloss and Cake Decorations
Not only are they utterly delicious, but ice cream, squirty (whipped) cream, candy floss and cake decorations all make very sweet (pun intended!) additions to taste-safe sensory play.
These examples from Lauren (@clothmadmum1993) shown left, and from Kayleigh (@trayplaytoolkits) shown right look simultaneously beautiful and delicious!!
“Oobleck” gets its name from the Dr. Seuss book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”, in which a gooey green substance, called ‘oobleck’, fell from the sky.
Oobleck is what’s known as a non-newtonian fluid. That’s to say that, it acts like a liquid when being poured, but like a solid when a force is acting on it.
It’s a completely taste-safe play substance, but it’s not hugely tasty, so don’t be surprised if your little one doesn’t want to down it by the litre (or should that be grams?!)
This fab oobleck ocean is by Lauren @clothmadmum1993.
Did you know that yoghurt makes a fantastic edible paint? Just mix it with food colouring and you’ve got taste-safe paint for little people! (Dairy-free bubbas can use a free-from substitute and the same approach applies, just add food colouring).
I love this themed tuff tray with a yummy-looking edible paint dollop of ice cream, by @come.play.with.annie.may !
Herbs and Flowers
Herbs and flowers not only look, and smell, beautiful - if you pick the right ones, they can be a taste-safe way to play with nature.
Please remember that not ALL flowers are edible, in fact, some can be highly poisonous, so please, please, please don’t go giving your child a flower to play with/eat if you are not 100% sure what it is. (It’s also worth noting that if your tiny human is a hayfever sufferer, or has certain allergies, you will want to be careful in exploring edible flowers.)
The flowers of borage, calendula, camomile, chrysanthemum, courgette, daisy, geranium, hibiscus, jasmine, lavender, marigold, mint, nasturtium, pansy, roses, rosemary, saffron, sunflower and viola plants are all edible and safe to include in play. As are most herbs and salad leaves.
Water and Ice
Don’t underestimate how much fun your little person can have with water, or ice! You can dye water with food colouring and you can set things in ice to be thawed; you can paint on ice, you can use water to ‘paint’ the fence/pavement, and you can make soapy bubbles in water. The possibilities are endless.
This cute icey frog pond is by @clothmadmum1993.
What are your favourite taste-safe ways to play?
I hope you enjoy exploring taste-safe sensory play!
Please remember not to give your child anything that you yourself wouldn’t eat, and I’ll leave you with a parting word to the wise on salt: there are some beautiful play and craft ideas out there that use salt, but I will say that I would never consider salt ‘taste-safe’ (as even a spoonful can make you sick), salt can be a lovely substance to explore with older children, but I would avoid using it with young kids and mouthing babies.
A huge thank you to the sensory play legend that is Kayleigh aka @trayplaytoolkits for your support with this post! ❤️