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“Play With Your Food!” Cookbook Helps Parents of Picky Eaters

Sarah Appleman has created a kosher cookbook called “Play With Your Food!” which teaches parents how to make mealtime fun and encourage kids to eat everything.
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November 18, 2021

When Sarah Appleman’s teenage son Ben was a young child, mealtime was always a big challenge. “He was a huge picky eater,” she said. “He gagged and would almost throw up when I tried to feed him.”

These days, however, things are different. “He eats everything,” she said. 

Appleman, an occupational therapist (OT) in San Diego, helped Ben overcome his struggles with eating by using techniques she had learned in her profession. Now, she’s taken her findings and created a kosher cookbook called, “Play With Your Food!” which teaches parents how to make mealtime fun and encourage kids to eat everything.

“I wrote the book to help parents with children who are picky eaters,” she said. “Having dinner and going to a restaurant is a fight for them. You can desensitize a child by having them see other people enjoy food, as well as work on their skills.” 

The book contains easy recipes for families to make as well as games to entice kids to eat a variety of foods. For instance, Appleman recommends making a Cheerios necklace out of Cheerios and shoestring licorice, and drawing pictures of fruits on cards and playing a memory game where the prize is to eat the fruit. She also suggests cutting up food into fun shapes, her PB & J sandwiches are shaped like stars, and creating a colorful, refreshing fruit salad with different kinds of fruits. 

There are many different ways that Appleman says parents can involve children in making the recipes. “When your child is measuring and pouring, they have to have stability in their wrists, shoulders and hands,” she said. “With mixing, pouring, tasting and smelling, parents are addressing sensory concerns, fine motor skills and coordination. And at the end of making a recipe, there is a product. People enjoy that product, so it gives kids a sense of pride.” 

In her day job, Appleman, who has been an OT for 21 years, assists children ages zero through three who have special needs in one or more areas like sensory processing and fine motor skills. The children she works with have issues not only with tolerating food, but also walking, being hugged and wearing certain clothing.

“I see a lot of children struggling and I want to be able to help them.”
— Sarah Appleman

“I see a lot of children struggling and I want to be able to help them,” she said. 

Appleman knows that picky eating is about a lot more than preference; there could be underlying issues at hand. 

“I look at the whole picture,” she said. “Lots of kids don’t want to eat their veggies. It’s normal. But if it impacts them where they are gagging or avoiding veggies, that’s where I come in. A child who is only eating soft foods could have low muscle tone and coordination in their mouth, which is something parents need to address. They need to look at texture intolerance, not just smell and taste intolerance. You want kids to get used to chewing and coordination and swallowing.” 

In her work, Appleman has learned that what children eat affects them in a number of different ways; it can negatively influence their ability to sleep, learn and pay attention. 

“A lot of children have allergies to dairy, and that impacts their attention span and thickens their mucus, so it’s harder for them to process the dairy throughout their body,” she said. “It makes them more lethargic, even though people think they’re hyper. They’re moving a lot to try to pay attention because they’re actually tired and fatigued.” 

Though parents may get frustrated with their children, it’s crucial to create positive experiences around food to get them to eat. Appleman said, “If you tell your child they aren’t getting dessert until they eat their food, or you tell them to go to bed hungry, now you’re creating anxiety around mealtime.” 

Since releasing her book, Appleman has started blogging about picky eating on her website Play With Your Food! and posting recipes and game ideas on her Instagram. She hopes to continue to help parents with making mealtime easier. 

“I don’t want people to struggle the way I did,” she said. “I want them to enjoy being with their children. Mealtime is family time. I want to really reach as many people as I can.”

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