• Shelby Voorhees

Broccoli or a Tiny Tree?

Growing up my parents always taught me not to play with my food, but what's the fun in that? For kids, playing and making a mess is always fun. The chance to explore different textures, tools, and colors can increase the involvement in mealtime.

Although I wasn't a picky eater (and still not), broccoli was one that was always fun to eat. Who doesn't want the chance to eat a tiny tree? A tiny tree that is an ice cream cone? A tiny tree with snow on it? A tiny tree going through a dust storm (those are common for us in Arizona in the summer time!)? A tiny tree with extra leaf sprinkles-- who doesn't love sprinkles?

Together we are going to take a look at all of these imaginative possibilities of broccoli to allow your child to play with their food (so fun!). We have found that most kids love looking at themselves in the mirrors or cameras, having one of these in front of them will be encouraging! It is also nice for the kids to think of food play fun not at the table. The table can be related to stressful eating, so try playing on the floor or a different table that is not used for everyday mealtime.

Lets start with the idea of the tiny tree that is an ice cream cone-

  • All that you will need: broccoli, toothpick, a top coating (this will be a familiar item that your child already likes, we used yogurt, but other great option is applesauce), and a mirror or front facing camera.

  • What you will want to do: let your child explore the idea of what to do with the broccoli and toothpick (with adult supervision of course). They will probably want to stab it because that's fun, and let them, this will create the ice cream cone structure. If they need some assistance, go ahead and help them out. Start dipping the broccoli in their top coating, just so the tops are covered. If they don't want to start licking it off right away, show them how it's done! You can start off by touching it on top of the broccoli and licking it off your fingers and then gradually add the idea of licking it off the broccoli, just like ice cream. At this point, if they bite it, win win for you, but don't get discouraged if they don't. This might take time and a couple times of doing the exact same activity for them to get comfortable with this added idea of playing with their food.

Next we are going to explore the idea of tiny tree with snow on it-

  • All that you will need: broccoli, a top coating of something white (we like ranch dressing, sour cream, cream cheese), and a mirror or front facing camera. If you have them, it might be fun to include some animal toys that live in the snow.

  • What you will want to do: While letting your child use their imagination to start the food play, bring out the animals that live in the snow. If you have other veggies (bell peppers, asparagus, lettuce) in the fridge, you can use them to make shelter for the animals during the snow storm. Either dipping or drizzling the tree with the white snow toppings, you can help them by standing up on your plate or tray with the thicker white topping (cream cheese). Brr I can almost feel the snow from the desert of Arizona!

A tiny tree going through a dust storm-

  • All that you need: broccoli, a top coating of something brown (we like hummus, bbq sauce, nut butter), and a mirror or front facing camera. If you have them, it would be fun to include some animal toys that live in the desert.

  • What you will want to do: Remember to get your child to explore their creative side with the items before stepping in and modeling what to do. This will increase their independence with the different ingredients. Once the modeling begins, dip the tiny tree into the brown top coating. This will resemble what it looks like when trees have dust on them just like after a dust storm. If you have the animals, it is fun to have the animals standing in the hummus dust (just like the desert) and then you can drizzle the bbq sauce on top like it would be when the wind is blowing.

A tiny tree with extra leaf sprinkles-

  • All that you need: broccoli, a top coating of your choice that is a familiar taste to your child (that will allow something to stick to it), kid-friendly scissors or knife, sprinkles options (we like candy sprinkles, Parmesan cheese)

  • What you will want to do: With the same thoughts as before, let your child explore the items and see where they go with it, see what their imagination does with the ingredients. If they are not exploring as much as you have in mind, feel free to model for them. The idea of the sprinkles is to get used to seasonings. Using the kid-friendly scissors, knife (pictured above) or your hands, cut or pull off the "leaves" of your tiny tree (this will create another sprinkle option). Then dip the tiny tree in the top coating, remember, just the tops of the broccoli. Once this has happened, use your sprinkle options and sprinkle away (I love sprinkles, so this is exciting for me!). The idea is to get your child to then want to at least lick off the sprinkles and eat the hopeful broccoli sprinkles that have been added.

While you are thinking about doing one or more of these activities with your child at home, remember that this might take time. You may have to do these multiple times before they catch on. But don't get discouraged and most definitely don't give up! Letting your child be exposed to different foods that you often eat as a family is important, even if they move it from one plate to another (their all done plate), they are touching it!

I can't wait for you to share your tiny tree stories and pictures with me! Feel free to send them my way, I love food play fun show and tell.

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ARCADIA THERAPY SERVICES is a group of 25 physical, occupational and speech therapists who train hard to provide programs that change the lives of kids and teens with developmental disabilities. 


We have been assisting Arizona families with passion and purpose since 1999. Therapy visits are covered through DDD (the Division of Developmental Disabilities) and private pay. We address challenges that result from diagnoses of autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and cognitive disability.

We meet families where real life happens! We typically begin with in-home sessions, to address issues that occur within daily life routines. We then expand outward, to community settings that enable us to help kids grow in countless cool and unexpected ways.


We are best known for Impossible Dreams, and our innovative work with kids who struggle with food.

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