Welcome 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.