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.
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.