Picky Eaters: A Texture Problem

7 Mom TipsWelcome to the first of our four-part picky-eater mini series. We have received many e-mails with questions on how to help children overcome “stages” of picky eating. Is it a disorder? Is it temporary? What can I do to help my child? These are just a few examples of questions many parents have e-mailed us. Today, we’ll begin with the “texture” issue, one many parents have found difficult to overcome.

What is a texture issue? If your child will only eat soft or pureed foods, such as bananas, cream cheese, PB&J, yogurt, etc. Or, your child will only eat crunchy foods such as pretzels, carrots, chips, and apples. If your child has no signs of difficulty swallowing, teething pain, a sensory problem (difficulty being touched), or autism, think of this picky eating as temporary (otherwise, please consult your doctor). How long is temporary? What can you do to lessen the problem and move your child toward a more tolerant stage?

Research shows that if you can get kids to eat most foods by the time they are in high school, they will eat nearly everything by adulthood. My husband will not eat cold and crunchy (to this day), and I am happy with sprinkled Grape Nuts over Jello. Our kids? Picky eaters in every sense of the word. So, believe me when I tell you that I’ve tried everything in our household.

Here are seven MOM tips to help you if your child has “texture” issues:

  • Get your child involved in sensory activities. We’ve all heard the “get your child involved in cooking, and they are more likely to eat the food.” Well, that does not work on my uber-picky children. They are happy to help cook but not eat. Try instead: If you have a “crunchy” kid, get him involved in “soft” sensory activities such as play dough or a pudding board (see below). If you have a “soft” kid, try playing with textured items such as cooked spaghetti (older kids can “braid” the spaghetti or make knots). Another activity to try is gluing or coloring uncooked pasta onto a paper or board. With toddlers, the high chair is your friend; get them to play with food. The key is to familiarize the senses with the opposite texture.
  • Match food to their senses. My son doesn’t like crunchy anything or meat texture, so much of his food takes a trip through the mini food processor (another reason we suggest one in the MOMables store as a kitchen essential). Many foods get mixed with whipped cream cheese (to introduce taste slowly) or hidden in tomato sauce, and he eats lots of warm “dips.” Taco night? He eats “dip” and chips. Everything cooked that you’d put inside a taco is now a delicious dip! Want to have more sandwich options? Make chicken salad, tuna salad, and egg salad in a mini chopper; you’ll get a creamy consistency this type of kid tends to like. With a kid who complains about food being “slimy” or “squishy,” you need to modify items so they have the texture they need: crunch. Instead of mashed potatoes, try baked wedges or baked potatoes. Soups? Chunky. Sandwich fillers? Also chunky.
  • Reward your child. Set up a reward system. Give your child tokens, coins, or stickers for trying new foods—even if they only take one bite. They can trade them in for a new toy, an outing, or something they have been wanting for a long time. Your 10-year-old wants a new bike? Establish a price and a deadline (such as birthdays). The key is finding a reward system that will work for your child and sticking with it. Consistency is key. Once you find one new food they like, add slowly to their repertoire.
  • Give your child some control. Don’t ask: What would you like to eat? Instead, offer her two choices, no more. We have carrots or peas. Which one would you rather eat? Remind them that they only need to take two or three bites (depending on your rules). When asked open-ended questions, a child will always answer with a “safe” food.
  • Make sure your child is hungry at mealtime. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I know many parents who ruin it by offering their kid a snack around 4 pm, and then expect their kid to eat dinner at 6. Then, frustration builds up because he refuses to eat. Really? They are just not hungry enough. I’ve learned that my kids need at least 3 hours before they are willing to eat a non-favorite dinner; therefore, an after-school snack happens between car line and 3:30 pm.
  • Give your child free rein of the condiments. Whatever gets them to eat them at first is what has worked best. While there is a difference between half a bottle of ketchup and a tablespoon, I am not going to make a fuss if he eats his peas. Eventually, the food item goes into the “safe” list, and that’s one more MOM point for that texture.
  • Praise, praise, praise! No one told me that I would need to buy a set of pom-poms when I became a parent. The truth? We all like to be praised, even in the little things. Why should I expect my husband to tell me “the house looks nice” after 4 hours of tiding up, when I don’t praise my child for eating peas? Praising is an ongoing thing that reinforces the behavior we want to establish. After a while, this behavior becomes a habit.

Texture is one of those things that can really frustrate a parent. Everything we eat has different textures, and when you have more than one child, you can begin to feel like a short-order cook real fast! Go ahead, take the pledge, and try one or two of the seven tips. Remember, consistency is key, and soon your child will learn the rule and what’s expected, and he will begin to feel good about the eating process. Next week, we’ll continue this four-part series with the “color” problem.

So what’s next? How about issues with color. Click here to read part two in the picky-eaters mini series!

—Pudding Board:  Take a cookie sheet tray, and pour between 4 and 6 ounces of pudding. Let your child “draw” on there with his fingers. To erase, wiggle the pudding board and start over.

 

Comments

  1. Amy says

    This may *literally* change our lives. I am at my absolute wits end with food refusals and constantly caving to get him to eat SOMETHING! I think every single one of these tips will help my son. Thank you so much. I wish I could give you a hug. This is the most unique and practical advise I have read for picky eaters – and I have read a LOT about them. I feek like you wrote this about *my* son. I am excited to get started on these changes.

    • says

      I’m so glad you found this helpful Amy! The kid described in the post is *my* son as well. Texture, in my opinion, is the hardest thing to help but it does get better over time. I promise!

  2. Sherry says

    We have twin boys; one with sensory issues, the other without. We adopted a Three-Chew-Rule for our “sensory” child. The kids could spit it out if they still didn’t like it after having chewed it three times… We also never put something new on their plate. It would go on a platter in the middle of the table and we would serve our plates from the platter. My husband and I would not give the new item much attention; we would serve ourselves first and the kids would be all curious and ask if they could have some too…. Of course! we would tell them. They are great eaters now but know they can (at anytime) fall back on Three-Chew-Rule… :)

  3. says

    I’d also recommend thinking about healthy foods that match their texture preference, no matter how far-fetched it seems.

    My 2 1/2 year old LOVES crunchy, baked kale, raw cauliflower, raw brussell sprouts and freeze dried fruit. I discovered these things by accident, like when she’d grab something off my plate and actually continued eating it.

    It’s easiest to get her to eat them (except kale – loves it anytime) in the car or stroller when she has nothing else to do. She’s not a fan of soft, but isn’t really opposed to it either. She won’t eat my “juice” (nectarines) but always wants a piece to squish instead of eat. I let her squish one and clean it up without making a big deal of it and tell her how good they taste. I figure one of these days she’ll try it.

  4. Dr. Annie says

    I thought your suggestions were brilliant. The last thing a parent with a small child should do is make eating a power struggle or a source of contention. Once eating becomes a loaded issue it can be difficult to reverse and your chances of positively influencing your child’s food choices get smaller and smaller every day. The strategies listed here are great ways to expose kids to healthy eating patterns while working around their taste preferences. Using positive reinforcement to get kids to try new things is such a powerful tool. That said, if you try these things and you still can’t get your child to eat his broccoli…relax. It is extremely common for children to become pickey eaters especially when they enter the preschool years (3-6). Some scientists have even suggested that at other points in history this served an adaptive purpose. Picky eating ensured that a child would not try to eat poison berries or something equally as toxic while his parents were out hunting and gathering more healthy food options. Not surprisingly, the kids who were picky eaters were more likely to live until adulthood, thus their genes were the ones that were passed down to next generations. The good news is that most kids grow out of this by the time they reach middle school. So the next time your child refuses to eat the meal you slaved over all day..don’t take it personally, you may want to chalk it up to genetics and teach her to make a turkey sandwich.

  5. says

    My kids for sure throw a fit when something “feels weird” in their mouths. Plus, you are right, texture makes me, as a parent, super frustrated. It tastes good, you know they will like it but they won’t get past the textures. It took about 20 times until either one of my kids would touch a raisin. So annoying!

  6. says

    Wonderful post, thank you! As a feeding therapist, I work with kids who have mild to severe taste, temperature and texture issues and want to thank you for your advice on praise. Some of the suggestions that I offer families is HOW to praise – Kids love it when you talk about the food or the sensation. For example, although a “good job!” is nice, a silly saying such as “You popped those peas better than any pea popper I know!” or “Your so good at crunching carrots – your teeth are as strong as T-Rex!” And, even if they are extra picky – never tell them that. If all they can do is touch the tip of their thumb (often the preferred entry point for sensory kiddos) into the pudding aboard above, praise them for that one, tiny step: “Your thumb does quite the balancing act on that pudding board! It looks like it’s tip toeing through pudding mud!” Kids live up to the labels that adults give them, so label them the world’s best pudding mud-walker and before you know it, they will be skating through pudding, licking pudding, slurping pudding through a straw…etc.!

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