How to PLAY your way out of mealtime meltdowns for picky eaters 

A whopping 88 per cent of parents admit their child can be picky when it comes to eating, with ‘stressful’ and ‘frustrating’ being the words most mums and dads use to describe mealtimes

Mealtimes can be a minefield, no matter how old, adventurous – or hungry! – your kids are.  

As every parent knows, children’s appetites are just as unpredictable as them. What works well one day can be a total failure the next. Sometimes getting any food into them at all is a challenge. And vegetables? Don’t even think about putting them on the table… let alone their plates.

If you – like many of us – are tearing your hair out trying to get filling, nutritious meals into your little ones, don’t worry; you’re far from alone.

Research commissioned by Play-Doh, the much loved pre-school brand, has found that a whopping 88 per cent of parents admit their child can be picky when it comes to eating, with ‘stressful’ and ‘frustrating’ being the words most mums and dads use to describe mealtimes.

In fact, three-quarters of us are so fed up that we give in to our youngsters’ picky eating habits, with 55 per cent of parents allowing kids not to finish their dinner, 48 per cent letting them eat something else – and 44 per cent letting them sit in front of the TV instead of staying at the table.

The ways we try to get food into them are even more creative: 42 per cent of us tell them they can’t have dessert, 28 per cent pretend to eat their dinner ourselves, 26 per cent of try the aeroplane spoon technique – and 17 per cent resort to all-out bribery with toys or sweets.

Sound familiar? Well, if you’re among the 74 per cent of stressed-out mums and dads who’d do anything to put an end to the pickiness, you’re in luck – because, thanks to Play-Doh, help is at hand.

Play-Doh’s research team found that 53 per cent of little ones are less picky when they get to help choose what’s for dinner, and 32 per cent when they’re involved in preparing the food

And don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you go on a fancy cookery course, overhaul your kitchen or draft in an expensive chef for those demanding little diners. Nor is there any bribery – or fake aeroplanes involved (phew).

The solution is far simpler than that – and it all revolves around play.

Picky-eaters can discover a world of entertainment with Play-Doh’s Busy Chef’s Restaurant Set, which brings out the fun side of food through pretend play – and, in turn, will spark their imaginations when it comes to real-life mealtimes.

Whether it’s dreaming up imaginary menus, dishing up plates of make-believe meals, or pretending to be a chef, waiter or washer-upper in the busiest mini restaurant in town, there’s plenty to do for kids of all ages – and hours of fun to be had.

Watch them rustle up make-believe burgers, cookies, meatballs, chips and pretty much every type of fake fruit and veg under the sun.

And when it comes to colour, shape and size, the only limit is their imagination – so expect to be dished up pretend purple spaghetti, blue bananas and rainbow-coloured ice-cream!

Once your kids have taken part in the Busy Chef’s Restaurant play set, you can be sure that the play will be much more engaging at the dinner table. Help your baby eat more deliciously

Play-Doh’s research team found that 53% of young children were less picky when they helped choose what to eat for dinner and 32% when they participated in food preparation.

Spark their imaginations with everything from fake pizza (which research shows makes up 40% of families’ favorite meals) to the most controversial vegetables around, including – yes, really! – Brussels sprouts, which 45% of parents say is the most difficult food for children to eat.

Set your child the challenge of coming up with a menu, making their own version of breakfast, lunch or dinner, or using the skills they’ve been practicing with Play-Doh in the family kitchen – and crunches during that meal will become a distant memory.

Play-Doh’s Busy Chef’s Restaurant Set brings out the fun side of food through pretend play

They’ll soon be chopping, mashing, mixing, tasting, trying, munching and smiling their way through every single meal.

If this sounds like music to your ears, you could even book a table at the Restaurant of Imagination, Play-Doh’s one-of-a-kind gourmet restaurant, opening for one day only this half term in an east London hot spot.

Play-Doh’s research found that 50 per cent of parents were put off from going out to restaurants by their children’s picky eating thanbits, but this one’s different.

Come along with your picky little eaters and let them unleash their culinary flair and creativity, providing the inspiration for a team of real-life busy chefs to turn their pretend Play-Doh creations into edible, family-friendly meals.

Once they get back home, they’ll be dashing to the dinner table and eating up – or, at the very least trying – everything you’ve served.

So, for clean plates, happy smiles and full tummies all round, turn mealtime into playtime with Play-Doh – and those picky eating habits will soon be a thing of the past.


When it comes to real-life meals, there’s plenty you can do to make them feel excited by, and interested in, what’s on their plates.  

Here are five top tips for winning over picky eaters: 

  1. Use colour to make food exciting. Try encouraging your child to ‘eat the rainbow’ throughout the week, by using a colour theme for their lunch or dinner each day. This is great for veg like peppers, carrots and sweetcorn, or fruit like mango and blueberries.
  2. Let them choose their cutlery, crockery and glassware. Something as simple as changing the colour of the plate or using their favourite cup can make mealtimes happier (and little ones love using ‘grown-up’ cutlery as a special treat).
  3. Don’t make mealtimes a mystery. Sit down as a family and plan the week’s food together, making sure you include a favourite – such as fish and chips on a Friday, or pizza and salad on a Saturday night – that everyone will enjoy.
  4. Eat together. This is easier said than done during the week, but make sure you do breakfasts, weekend lunches and, if you can, a big Sunday roast with everyone sitting at the table together. Watching you eat will help encourage them to do the same.
  5. Don’t demonise foods or avoid them completely. Whether it’s greens, peas or those dreaded sprouts, include them in small portions – such as diced up in a risotto or blitzed into a sauce – to get kids used to the taste, and slowly work up to small portions.

WIN a bundle of Play-Doh goodies plus family tickets to Paultons Park, home of Peppa Pig World

Meet Peppa and George, as well as all your other favourite characters from the TV show, and step inside a world of creativity, fun and laughter at the world’s first Peppa Pig World.

You’ll also get a £250 travel allowance – and we’ll throw in £500 spending money, so you can stock up on plenty of goodies along the way.

Your little explorer will also receive a bundle of must-have Play-Doh goodies, including the Play-Doh Kitchen Creations Busy Chef’s Restaurant PlaysetPizza Oven PlaysetMagical Mixer Playset and Picnic Shapes Starter Set, all specifically designed for creative play around make-believe food!

A Play-Doh Kitchen Creations Busy Chef’s Restaurant Playset is one of the fun sets in the bundle

For your chance to win an experience they’ll never forget, click here to enter this incredible competition today.

All you have to do is write and tell us what your kids would create with the Play-Doh Busy Chef’s Restaurant playset in 200 words or less!

You have until midnight 1 January 2024 to enter. Good luck!