Why are there certain foods that most kids tend to like, and other foods that most kids avoid? When a child says that they don’t like a food, most parents assume that they do not like the flavor of the food. But what about foods that they reject without even tasting a single bite? How about foods that, based on the flavor, seem like they should be preferred, but for some reason aren’t?
It’s because, many times, it isn’t the flavor of the food...it’s the TEXTURE.
Think about it. When you look at a food that you’ve never tried before, you can’t tell what it will taste like based on the appearance alone. However, you can get an idea of what the texture will be like, simply by taking a look. For children who are especially sensitive to texture, this can prove to be an obstacle in introducing new foods.
A cracker, a chicken nugget, a french fry; they all appear dry and crunchy. A child may be willing to pick up one of these items and even take a bite. If the texture is found to be similar to their favorite foods, they will be more likely to successfully chew and swallow the bite...and maybe even continue taking bites!
When a child is presented with something like spaghetti with meat sauce, mashed potatoes, or soup, it is clear that the texture is less predictable. There may be multiple types of food visible, sauces coating the food, etc. A child who is sensitive to textures may also show concern for getting the food on their hands or face, making it even less likely that they will try a bite. If they do take a bite, they may gag and spit the food out, creating a negative association for unfamiliar foods.
If you have a good procedure in place for encouraging your child to try bites of new foods, here are some tips to help gradually increase their success with textures that may initially seem challenging or non-preferred:
1. Have your child use a utensil to take the bite, rather than picking it up with their fingers. This eliminates any challenges that the “feeling” of the food may pose.
2. Start with very small bites...like, tiny. Prepare a small bite, and then cut that in half.
3. Have water or an “easy” food available. “Easy” foods will vary from child to child; I find that yogurt or a cracker are typically good choices. Use the water drink or the easy food bite as a “chaser” to help your child clear their mouth after chewing and swallowing the new food bite. This prevents little particles from remaining in their mouth after swallowing.
4. Modify foods until they become more familiar. Peel the skin from grapes, peaches, apples, etc. if you see that the skins get left behind after swallowing. Toast bread slightly for sandwiches if the soft texture gets stuck in their mouth. Remove large chunks from pasta sauces so that the pasta is just lightly coated. As your child’s skills improve, you can begin phasing out the modifications.
5. Talk your child through the bites! This point is huge. So many times, I see kids freeze up and start gagging because they aren’t sure what to do with the food once it’s in their mouth. Calmly tell your child to push the food to their “big teeth” (molars), “just keep chewing,” and then swallow without delay. You’ll be surprised how quickly their confidence builds!
Giving your child exposure to new food textures while also setting them up to be successful is an important part of creating well-rounded eaters. It helps to demonstrate to them that foods are not intimidating, and that they have the ability to work through even the most challenging bites. I encourage you to give this a try with your texture-sensitive child today!