Today, I’m sharing a podcast episode talking about one of the most common challenges picky eaters face when trying new foods – texture! Many kids will refuse foods that “feel funny” in their mouths like meat or starchy vegetables. We also talk through practical solutions you can implement when your child does not want to eat foods with specific textures.
This 5th season of the MOMables Podcast is all about helping our picky eaters try new foods and establishing happier mealtimes.
Topics discussed this episode:
• When texture issues need to be adressed
• How sensory activities can help a child with texture aversions
• Getting more protein in your child’s diet when they refuse to eat meat
• Creative ways to change the texture of problem foods… and so much more!
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Does your picky eater prefer certain types of food and you’re not sure how to introduce new foods into their diet? It’s true, some kids like soft foods, other kids like crunchy textures, while the most common is kids not wanting to eat meat because of its texture.
If you have difficulty introducing new foods to your picky eater, texture might be the problem.
What is a texture issue?
When a child will only eat soft or pureed foods, such as bananas, cream cheese, PB&J, yogurt, for example. Or, when a child will only eat crunchy foods such as pretzels, carrots, chips, and apples.
Regardless of the texture preference, introducing new foods can be difficult for many parents and here is where experts advise thinking of textures a whole not food groups.
Is it a texture issue or a swallowing issue?
If a child has no signs of difficulty swallowing, history of severe acid reflux, teething pain, a sensory problem (difficulty being touched), or autism it is likely that your child is just a picky eater with a texture issue.
You should consult a doctor when:
• a child over chews food until it’s practically mush
• drinks water with every bite to assist swallowing
• regurgitates food back up regularly (throw up in his mouth)
• feels acid-like in the back of their throat and stomach after meals
If your child suffers from no medical issues then it’s likely that food preferences are at play here.
Research shows that if you can get kids to eat most foods by the time they are in high school; but most parents this is ages away –often nearly a decade!
Should a Picky Eating Texture Problem be addressed?
The should answer, yes. It’s unlikely a child is receiving all the nutrients they need from a limited amount of foods. And sadly, a multivitamin gummy isn’t going to make up for the lack of micronutrients from food. They are a good supplement, but not a substitute for nutrients for food.
In developed countries, most kids don’t show signs of malnutrition when they are young. However, nutritional deficiencies are often manifested in skin issues (rashes, eczema, acne), bowel issues (constipation) to name a few.
Here are some tips to help you if your child has “texture” issues:
1. 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.
If you have a “crunchy texture” kid, get him involved in “soft” sensory activities such as play dough or a pudding board. A pudding board is where you 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.
If you have a “soft texture” kid, try playing with textured items such as cooked spaghetti where 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.
2. Match food to their senses.
One concern of many parents of a child with texture issues is whether their child is getting enough protein. Cooked meats are a difficult thing for many kids of texture issues to overcome; especially when grilled or skillet cooked.
To ensure that their child is getting enough protein, many parents rely on dairy products. Unfortunately, many of the choices have a lot of added sugars. Some protein options are eggs, beans, tofu, and of course, animal meats and fish.
One technique you can do is change the meat’s texture by cooking them on a slow cooker on low temperatures and slow. With this cooking process, meat becomes tender, often pulls apart, and a child doesn’t have to chew the meat as much.
Beans are often not a childhood favorite; which is why I also recommend cooking them in soups, making bean hummus, or even transforming them into delicious burger patties.
3. Get creative.
Just like mentioned in tip #2, matching the food to their texture preference is essential. Many parents insist that their child doesn’t eat chicken but then absolutely love a chicken sandwich made with our Southern Chicken Salad. It tastes delicious, and the texture is more like cream cheese than grilled chicken (no it doesn’t have any cream cheese in it).
Vegetables can be a bit more difficult and getting kids to eat more vegetables is a top concern for most parents because vegetables have a lot of nutrition. However, unfortunately for most vegetables, most have fiber-like texture kids do not like.
One suggestion that often floats around is to add spinach to smoothies; but if a child doesn’t drink smoothies or doesn’t like green, no amount of coercion will get them to drink it. Besides, a single smoothie does not have enough vegetables for an entire day, even though every little bit counts.
There are many ways to cook vegetables and turn vegetables into another food. You can turn broccoli into Broccoli Tater Tots, Broccoli Nuggets, rice broccoli or cauliflower, or even make it into a broccoli soup.
4. Give your child some control.
Many parents ask their child “what would you like to eat?” And that is a question that will only lead to supporting the foods you know your child should be eating less of. When asked open-ended questions, a child will always answer with a “safe” food like nuggets, fruit, bread, etc.
Instead, ask your child “we have peas or carrots. Which one would you rather eat?” If the child’s reply is “none” then you say “very well, maybe next time.” At dinner, place all items made on the table and allow your child to eat from the foods you prepared for the family; not a separate meal.
5. Make sure your child is hungry at mealtimes.
Making sure your child is a bit hungry can’t be stressed enough, and it may sound like a no-brainer, but many well-intended parents give kids a snack too close to meal times. To ensure the child grows an appetite, it’s essential to establish a mealtime schedule and cut off snacking to 2-3 hours before dinner.
Many kids don’t eat at dinner, but are hungry an hour later, because they are just not hungry.
6. Give your child free rein of the condiments.
Whatever gets them to eat them those first few bites is all that matters. For many kids, condiments like ketchup, ranch dressing, olive oil, soy sauce, or mayonnaise are the type of condiments that they love to add on their favorite kid foods.
It’s important to match the flavor a child prefers with a new texture. While there is a difference between half a bottle of ketchup and a tablespoon, some may be needed to eat those green bean fries.
7. Keep a List.
It’s true that we, parents, have a lot going on and keeping a mental tally is just not going to work long term. Long term? Yes, picky eater issues do not get “fixed” overnight. It takes a constant introduction of new foods and bringing back the old ones with new textures and flavors, and the easiest way to keep track is by writing things down.
Whether it’s a digital note in your phone or a small notebook kept inside a kitchen drawer, you’ll find a method that works best to remember what has worked and what needs to be changed.
Things to track are whether your child likes the flavor, did they add a condiment, was the texture too thin or too chunky, etc. This will help you adjust the ingredients for next time.
Tracy M Barron
I’m a 70’s child and as an adult realized that I had sensory issues. I grew up in a house of ‘clear your plate rules’ and was the odd-ball out. It has left lasting issues. Eventually in my mid-20’s I began to travel and develop an interest in trying new things, now I am pretty well rounded. I’ve found 2-4 veggies I will eat and figured out the ‘safe’ chicken dish in just about any culture. My son has the same sensory issues (texture, gagging, high smell sensitivity, wants not just same food but same brand). I’m hopeful that the patience and approach is helpful. He can try any 1 bite of anything ‘we’ are eating and then he can choose anything he would like to eat. If after 5 good chews he doesn’t like it or can’t swallow it he can spit it out. He has found a few things over the years he has liked.. maybe he will also find his way…
I too have a texture problem I don’t like my food too touch I don’t like to try new things I’m a big gagger I just started eating lettuces last year and I’m 27. My three year old is the same way I try to offer her things and if she doesn’t eat them I don’t force her to she hates trying new thing, same as me I’m trying to offer her new thing with out making her try them we waste plenty food unfortunately ….seeing if she will at least try something which she won’t, she’s been 34 LBs for a while now I’m out of ideas .. I understand the problem since I have it but I wish I could help her not turn into me lol.
My son is 2yrs8mths. He is picky in between soft&hard. He loves yoghurt, cheese, porridges, crunchy goodies like pretzel sticks, fries, crisps but refuses to eat mince, chicken, fish and those type of foods. He will eat meaty sausage but spit it out once he has chewed out the ‘flavour’ At school they also say he eats really bad even though all his friends eat well. Not sure what to do anymore. If he refuses to put it in his mouth he will not open it for no one.
The teacher said I must brush his mouth with a toothbrush all over the inside with a toothbrush. Will see if that helps but not sure if that only will do the trick.
Any advise will be appreciated!
I have a 1 year old that struggles with food in general. She has Williams Syndrome and I am lucky to get 10 bites at one sitting. She does fine with things from a straw or out of a bottle, but even a smoothie she will drink about 1/4 of it and she is done. When we first started feeding her every time the spoon would hit her tongue she would gag to the point of throwing up, she is getting better with the spoon with therapy. I put peaches and other fruits on the tray for her to play with and when they squish in her hands she gags. My question after all of this is what would you recommend letting her play with/ try next. Crunchy doesn’t work generally, she liked whipped cream, however we used that as a “preferred food” when we started therapy and introduced different things with it so she is very leery of it now. I would like for to her to stop formula before long but fear that she will not get enough nutrition.
so glad you started feeding therapy. While the process might seem slow, it does work long term. I’d consult your doctor regarding nutrition. Kids are very intuitive and will eat as they are hungry. Your doctor will monitor growth and at this age, it’s the best way to know.
My Granson is 14 years old, and he still have issues with vegetables and meat. He will eat a hot dog, but not a burger, he will eat a carrot but not a cucumber. No specs or discoloration on foods will be considered. Everything must be same color and not mixed together. Etc etc.. It hurts me to watch everyone picking on him, and bringing him to tears every time we sit around the table for a meal. My daughter is at her wits end. What advise if any would you have for us?
I know how tough it can be. My middle son is very picky at meal time. It takes a lot of patience, and trying over and over again with lots of encouragement. It’s important to stay positive!
I really feel compelled to reply to your comment – I am your grandson about 10 years into the future!
I am 24 years old and have the exact same issues with my food. The only fruits and veggies I can touch are carrots, celery, and apples. The carrots have to taste just right, they cannot be overly hard and they cannot have brown tips on the ends. The celery is pretty much the same. The applies have to be a solid red color and firm (but not too hard) throughout. If there are any bruises or mushy sections I will gag while chewing it.
Just last week I actually ate a slice of pizza without scraping off all of the toppings and sauce. It was actually magical to experience a slice of pizza it was meant to be experienced instead of just having dough with a slight tomato taste. I got cocky and had another from a different pizza place and had to spit it all out. I could feel the onions in the sauce on my teeth and it was just too much… I couldn’t chew or swallow. The difference? The other place pureed their sauce.
Meat is just a disaster for me…. I often try to cook things and end up leaving them all for my husband because the meat had a tough spot in it, or there was a slimy consistency to it. Sometimes it helps to have these as leftovers because the taste becomes more consistent and it is easy to pick apart for the good stuff.
Even my go-to chicken fingers can be a disaster. Sometimes they don’t taste like they usually do or there is a bit of a slimy layer under the breading. I end up barely eating or throwing them away even though they are my favourite food. I don’t do it by choice or to be difficult – I just can’t eat it if it isn’t close enough to perfect. Often I almost burn them to ensure they are dried out.
Right now my safe food is bologna (nothing with it, just a straight slice). It is an overall even consistency but eventually my mouth is going to pick up on the small inconsistencies and I’ll need to stop eating it for a while. I used to always have garlic bread but slowly started noticing the minced garlic pieces.
Generally I’ll have ‘seasons’ of foods where I can tolerate the small issues for so long until I start to notice. Then I drop eating that food all the time and switch to something else. This of course made my parents batty… they’d fully stock up on a favourite food item that worked for me and then they’d have to throw it all away… only to have me back on it the next year.
My parents were at a loss on how to handle me and I eventually was so alienated by my family that I developed an eating disorder (barely ate for 3 months) and lost a bunch of weight. You really need to push for them to accept his limitations and not tease him. To associate food with being bullied by those you trust can be devastating.
It really isn’t THAT hard to cater to someone like this. My mom started making a simple/bland version when cooking the family meal. That is all I want – simple ingredients that have an even consistency and are kept separate. Also, the blander the better. So it isn’t that hard to pull some lasagna noodles aside and toss on some parmesan cheese instead of trying to make me eat a slice of crippling lasagna. Or leaving a section of the tray of wedges unseasoned.
There are some more cumbersome things though – like straining the spaghetti sauce to get all the bits out, or straining the salsa on a specific section of nachos so I could eat some too, or preparing some of the potatoes mashed while everyone else has baked potatoes.
It just isn’t that hard to make someone feel accepted over what they can eat and I cannot stress how damaging it can be to be mocked for something like this. It can just make it much worse.
MOMables - Laura
Cally, sending positive thoughts your way. Great job on experiencing pizza as it was meant to be! :)
Totally ridiculous! My children ate what was put on their plates. The parent was making food decisions, not the child. We are all very healthy & rarely get colds or flu…in fact I have never gotten the flu & I am 58yrs old. My technique was based on fact & followed my Mother & Grandmother. My Grandmother never had a cold or was sick a day in her 83yrs. My children have followed this same way with their children. My grandchildren are also very healthy, happily adjusted, and doing well academically in the world. Your techniques are allowing way to much control for the child. Children don’t know what’s good for their nutrition and their growth. Period.
Hi Connie! Everyone has a different way of feeding their kids, and I’m a firm believer of one size does not fit all, so whatever works for your family is great! As long as kids are healthy and happy, I’m happy.
Well done you l, you are very lucky to have children that didn’t have any issues. Only a parent with children that are easy or someone that does not have children could have wrote this. God help the child if it was fussy with that attitude.
Unfortunately or fortunately all children are different and individual. I have 2 children one that eats everything upto date, hay that might change. And one very fussy eater who has a problem with texture swishyness And also has issues with things mixed together. That’s just the way he is and we work on those issues and many more every day. As that’s what is mums do. Embrace the quirks X
You really shouldn’t judge. Obviously you don’t have experience with problem eaters and your comments are insensitive and baseless.
How lucky to have gone through life without any food struggles. I think the people on this forum really are battling which is why they are googling about this topic in the first place. We are here for support and advice. Not sure why you are here? Maybe best to stay out of areas that do not apply to you especially if you are just going to make us strugglers feel bad.. ~Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes~ and all that…
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.
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!
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… :)
great job Sherry!
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.
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.
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!
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.!
Melanie, I love this comment! Thank you! You are right, praise is SO important! And thank you for some fantastic “how-to-praise” tips! I checked out your site and I’m intrigued with the music CD!
Thank you! Be happy to send you a review copy – feel free to email me.