Using food in play is it good, bad, mixed messages?   2 comments

This morning, I picked up on a Facebook discussion about using food for play and the suggestion was that it was not ethical. There was a list of non food items that could be used instead for sensory play experiences – these things included pom poms, baby oil, and many other things that would indeed provide sensory play experiences.

Discussion on this subject was wide ranging with different viewpoints being expressed. Some though using small amounts of say cornflakes was ok – but not large amounts; Some thought things like cornflour was ok; some thought out of date food was ok; some thought food should never be used because so many in the world are going hungry; some thought telling the children that give to food banks and so on, but also playing with food gave mixed messages.

So as you can see a wide range of opinions!

So here is my view – I have to admit this is one of those subjects that I have reflected on a lot – and changed my opinion over the years!

At first I did not really think about it in ethical terms and if I could afford to provide food for sensory experiences – I did.

Then I thought it was wasteful – so I used out of date food stuff

But then I thought actually that is not safeguarding the children in my care if they ate small (or even large) amounts of out of date food stuff.

So I went back to providing in date stuff, but tried to limit the amount used

But then I realised that if providing – say rice play – you need quite a lot certainly a large bag rather than a small bag – so I provide a lot of some items to create the play opportunities that I knew were needed.

Then I did a whole load of reflecting and have now reached this conclusion that I would like to share with you. Of course I may reflect again, but I don’t think so because my current thoughts are based on years of reflection and change and also on my own version of common sense.

I am not expecting everyone to agree with my thoughts on using food for play, as we all have our own ethos and personal values, we all have had different life experiences and been on our own personal professional journey.

Anyway – here we go …..

It is ok to use food for play!

It does not give mixed messages anymore than other things we do!

It is not wasting food that could be eaten by others!

Using food is a great sensory experience that is often safer to use than other non food sensory items!

Here are my thoughts around the issue and why I think as I do (re statements above)

  • Non food sensory items have a cost attached – and some use the earth’s resources to produce. How can it be right to use such items but not food which is a renewable resource – and often relatively cheap to buy. Would it not be better to use food and to give any savings made to charities or to providing items for foodbanks?


  • What about the clothes the children and adults wear – including logo wear? In this country we usually have far more clothes than we need – are people suggesting that it is wasteful or unethical because people in other countries do not have enough clothes, or wear clothes and shoes that do not fit, or not fit for purpose for the weather in their country?


  • What about the nice purpose made trays and containers that we put non food (and food) items in? Is this not wasteful? Is it not demonstrating to children that in this country we can have the latest all singing, all dancing ‘thing’ just because it is available? But those in other countries don’t even have a container to hold water or cook food in?
  • And water play? Is that not giving mixed messages? I know some limit the amount of water that can be used during a day – but surely this is still a mixed message when some people do not have clean water to drink? What about paddling pools, and sprinklers or hose pipes – all could be deemed unethical or giving mixed messages.


  • What about trips out using mini buses or cars – surely some would say that is wasteful of the earth’s resources? Why should we be able to just nip out in our cars or mini buses, when some people have to walk miles to get water or go to the market?


  • Then let’s think about food waste all around us – food not eaten at nursery, too many food choices, food seen on the floor in markets or in supermarket bins, or in the bins around fast food places ? What message is this giving?


  • What about our fundraising to buy the latest item for our settings – lets say a nice set of wooden blocks – is that not unethical when some people do not have wood to build homes or use on fires to keep warm?


  • What about all those craft materials (especially in the run up to festive period)? We could just provide recycled items, or we could do far less creative sessions – after all – How many different Diva’s or Santa’s or Witches does each child need to make? (and that is without considering  why the children are doing these activities to produce something to take home)

I could give loads more examples – such as the paper wasted in printing things we really do not need (including ‘learning Journeys’), what about social visits, or trips to cities to take part in training?

In fact just about EVERYTHING  we do in the western world could be described as unethical because we are using resources that others could make better use of, or spending money that could be used to support others through charities and so on.

So what should we do?

In my opinion we should not have a wasteful attitude, we should consider carefully everything we do, use and buy. However, we should not stop doing these things because it will not make any difference to those who lack sufficient food, or shelter, or clothes, or play items. Us using things in our settings will however support the development of the children in our care – who will flourish and go on to be citizens of the world.

However, we also need to support the children to understand how lucky they are (even those who are classed as living in poverty, have a lot more than many children in the world), we need to support giving things to charities. So items for foodbanks; clothes collections; going to charity shops to buy things, thinking do we need to use that much, recycling; fundraising for others, not just for our settings; being kind; being helpful and all those other characteristics that will enable the children to think about the needs of others.

In a nutshell, using food for play is not the issue – it is our whole lifestyles, and everything we do in our settings.

The bigger picture needs to be looked at – not just focussing on one aspect.

Of course if we decide to use food for play, we need to ensure we can justify why we have used food – and think about all the issues around it.

Each of us will have a different viewpoint – and that is fine. I am just not comfortable with the message that it is unethical.


Posted October 22, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

2 responses to “Using food in play is it good, bad, mixed messages?

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  1. I think that you are ‘over thinking’ the use of food in play activities!
    Cheap foodstuffs, such as ‘Value’ supermarket rice, pasta, cornflakes etc can be used in food play, whilst fresh foods, such as carrots and other vegetables can be provided in your Home Corner for children to cut up, ‘cook’ with and, eventually, eat as a part of their 5 a day!
    Citrus fruits (oranges, satsumas, lemons and limes) can also be provided in the Home Corner along with citrus squeezers, small jugs and cups. The children will then drink the juices that they have made, providing them with extra vitamins!

    • Thank you Margaret, some good points and suggestions.

      I don’t think it is over thinking just my thoughts from my experience over many years, and as you will know reflecting on anything often extends into other reflections about other issues

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