To help you think about which foods may be extra tricky for your child (and why), we’re going to start by looking at easy foods. Take crackers. Do you know many kids who don’t eat at least one brand of plain cracker? Probably not. Each cracker in the pack is identical; inoffensive bland colour; neutral, savoury taste; no scary green flecks or lumps; easy to chew and swallow; each mouthful behaves the same in the mouth – crunch, crunch, melt. Let’s contrast this with three different types of food that can be very challenging for some children: vegetables, meat and mixed-textures.
Veggies are just so darn unpredictable! The broccoli stem does something totally different in the mouth compared to the florets. One bite may be softer than the next because of how much heat it got in the pan. For some children, the bitter flavours may be experienced very intensely! Did you know that sensitivity to bitterness is genetic? Scientists even speculate that bitterness signals that a food is potentially unsafe.
Meat that has not been processed lacks uniformity and predictability, just like vegetables. Ever wondered why your child eats chicken nuggets but not chicken breast? Non-processed meat is hard to chew and usually lacks that helpful crunchy casing that actually makes eating easier. Children may avoid the hard work that chewing meat involves. And the more they avoid it, the more these crucial abilities (oral motor skills) may lag behind. This can become a negative cycle where kids avoid meat because it’s tricky to chew, their chewing skills don’t develop and so they avoid meat even more.
Mixed Texture Dishes
Our senses play a huge role in how we eat. And that’s not just our five senses – did you know we have eight senses that are all relevant to how we interact with food? (We explain these in the first module inside our members’ area if you’d like to learn more). When we eat mixed textures, this is a big ask in terms of the sensory processing required. For typical eaters, complex sensory challenges may not be a big deal. For children who struggle with sensory processing, as many picky eaters do, it can be overwhelming.
What we can do:
Here are a few of our suggestions about vegetables, meat and mixed-textures:
- Start with sweet not bitter veggies like sugar snap peas.
- Start with raw not cooked veggies – they are crunchy and less unpredictable, making them easier. For example, try raw carrot in peels to make it consistently thin (like a cracker) and easy to put in their mouth.
- If your child likes fruit, try serving cubes of melon alongside de-seeded, peeled cucumber, helping your child see that fruit and veg are not so different after all. Remember your goal is NOT to sneak in the cucumber. Let them explore the cucumber without pressure to eat it.
- Separate mixed texture dishes into their component parts, this makes them way more achievable. And modelling that you eat them mixed is a great learn from across the table.
- Make sure you eat meat, veggies and mixed texture dishes in front of your child (unless you’re vegetarian, obviously). They will learn so much from seeing you enjoying them.
- Build from processed meats that your child accepts, for example, peeling chicken nuggets or making your own homemade version.
We give Your Feeding Team subscribers regular challenges to inspire them to help their children to enjoy a more varied diet. These are posted inside our private members facebook group, where we also do our regular weekly Q & A. If you are feeling like you don’t really know where to start when it comes to helping your child learn to eat vegetables, meat or mixed-texture dishes, why not sign up to Your Feeding Team and let us take you step by step through what to do. And there is no lock- in, so if you feel like it’s not for you after the first month, that’s not a problem. We’d love to be there with you on your journey. Together, we’ve got this!