I thought it might be nice to share something that I have found to be really helpful while working with my 16-month-old daughter, Remy, at home (yeah, a feeding therapist’s job is never done, haha!) She has been teething pretty much constantly over the last month, and it has led to some pretty crummy mealtimes. Refusal to eat anything other than soft food, briefly chewing firmer food and then spitting it out, letting food/drinks/saliva dribble out of her mouth...let’s just say that it’s been messy around here!
Remy has generally been a really great eater since we started solids--she has a great appetite, and appears to like a wide variety of flavors and textures. So, when I saw all of this refusal starting, I felt that I needed to address it right away. I have seen many of my clients go through illnesses or discomfort and begin to refuse long-established foods. Then, once the child is feeling better, the parents have a really hard time reestablishing those foods! Kids learn quickly, and if they have a few negative experiences with a food, that can be enough to get that food on the blacklist permanently!
I knew I needed to avoid letting too much time pass in which Remy only accepted soft, highly preferred food, but I wasn’t sure of my approach. I continued to present all of the regular foods that we were eating as a family, but time and time again she ate the easy stuff and then firmly exclaimed, “ALL DONE!” Unlike my older daughter who could be motivated with treats (“take a bite of this, then you get a bite of that”), Remy lives in the moment. She doesn’t do well with delayed rewards; if she sees something she wants (noodles, cookies, etc), forget about offering any lesser item--it will be swiftly tossed into the eager, drooling mouth of our dog.
What I found worked like a charm nearly 100% of the time was food pairing! Not hiding food, but openly and clearly putting two foods (one preferred food, one refused food) together on the spoon or fork. Please, please don’t hide food from your kids--it will backfire! If I put a piece of chicken with some rice, she’d eat it readily, but the chicken alone was spit out or rejected entirely. I showed her my preparation of each bite (“here’s a noodle and here’s some green bean”) to ensure that she knew what to expect. I tried as often as possible to put foods that had similar flavors (both savory, both sweet) together, but she really didn’t seem to care about the combinations, as long as there was an easy food present.
I think that this worked for one of two reasons, or maybe for both reasons: 1.) The easier textured food made the firmer foods less challenging to break down by adding some softness and moisture to her mouth. 2.) The addition of the more preferred food made the bite more appealing so that she was willing to work through the more challenging food.
Now that two molars have surfaced, Remy appears to be settling back into her normal ways, but I will keep this trick in my back pocket when her gums start bothering her again!
Until next time,