Creating a sensory table where new and familiar tastes can be investigated is bound to be a popular attraction with the children in your setting.
Practitioners can also take the opportunity to discuss the need for a healthy balanced diet, and emphasise to children the dangers of eating and drinking unknown substances without adult permission.
Be sure to adhere to strict rules for hygiene and take account of any children's dietary restrictions or allergies.
Position the table near relevant play areas, such as the home corner, so that children can make associations with other activities involving food.
Create a display near the table to attract the children 's interest and encourage them to have fun exploring what is on offer. Try some of the following display ideas:
- Invite the children to make a large tongue from fabric scraps and attach this to the centre of the display.
- Create a montage of food pictures chosen by the children from magazines.
- Ask the children to create their favourite meals on paper plates using collage materials and hang them at different heights above the table.
Don't leave food lying on the table for long. Tell children where to dispose of foods they have tasted, and make sure tissues and handwashing facilities are within easy access. Ensure that an adult is on hand to supervise, while still giving children freedom to explore the foods.
Talk to the children about the function of the tongue and look in a mirror at the taste buds along it. Explain that there are four recognisable tastes -'sweet', 'sour', 'salty' and 'bitter'. Can the children think of foods in these categories?
Sweet or sour Make comparisons between a really sweet orange and a lemon.
- Leave slices of each on paper plates and invite the children to taste them.
- Can they say which is sour and which is sweet? Which do they prefer?
Plain or salty Put out two bowls of home-made crisps, plain and salted.
- Invite the children to taste a crisp from each bowl blindly. Which one is salty?
Bitter or sweet Put some cold weak black coffee in a plastic mug and some sweet drinking chocolate in another.
- Invite the children to try a tiny bit of each liquid on a plastic teaspoon.
- Can they say which is bitter? Have a bowl ready to drop used spoons into.
At the supermarket
Talk about the importance of taste when choosing food. Use role play to give children confidence to express their preferences and try new tastes.
- Professional tasters Supply white caps, a variety of crispbreads and toppings, and invite children to take on the role of tasters. Encourage them to spread different toppings on the bread. Do they think their choices would sell well in the supermarket?
- Free samples Invite the children to take on the role of customers tasting small portions of cheeses or unusual fruits. Which ones would they buy?
- New product creators Suggest that the children create a new product to sell in the supermarket. Supply them with a large bowl of natural yoghurt and different types of soft fruits. Invite them to cut up the fruit and experiment with mixing their own flavoured yoghurt.
Around the world
Use the taste table to introduce children to dishes from different countries or regions, adding role-play restaurants.
- Chinese festivals Taste foods such as rice, bean sprouts and spring rolls. You could link it to Chinese New Year.
- Italian foods Supply children with toppings to create their own pizzas.
Encourage children to explore these similarities and differences in tastes.
Leaves we can eat Lettuce, spinach, red cabbage, coriander, mint and chives.
Roots we can eat Carrots, turnip, parsnip, radishes and yams.
Apples Eating and cooking apples.
Fresh or dried Fresh and dried apricots, grapes and sultanas, apple slices and dried apple rings.
Babies and children's food Mashed, sliced or pureed banana. Which would be suitable for a baby? Which do the children prefer?
Encourage children to record their likes and dislikes, and their favourite tastes, for example, by including charts with smiley and sad faces to tick, stickers to attach to food pictures or clipboards to draw choices.