My most recent Huffington Post piece! Hey McDonald’s, How About Them Apples?
Thanks to Melissa who posted this question about texture on my Facebook page.
Texture is a touchy topic. (Get it…Touchy!) Some toddlers seem to go gaga over the gooey (yogurt, apple sauce, even macaroni and cheese). Others go crazy for the crunchy (crackers, toast, nuggets). It’s enough to make you nuts.
1) Rule out a physical or developmental problem.
The mechanics of eating are actually fairly complicated and there are lots of things that can go wrong.
- If you have a child who prefers one kind of texture over another, seems to have trouble chewing foods, or in any other way indicates that there may be a problem and you should have an evaluation done. Read My child only eats Cheerios and Puffs: When to seek medical help
- On the other hand, if your child can master a range of foods (crackers, small bits of meat, and foods with mixed textures such as yogurt with blueberries) you’re probably dealing with a food preference or an eating habit.
2) Consider the possibility that your child has a texture habit, not a texture preference.
Parents look for rational reasons to explain their children’s eating patterns.
- It’s understandable too: If you can figure out why your child eats the way he does, you have a better chance of producing meals he’ll eat. Or so you think.
Looking for a rational reason to explain your toddler’s food preference is a waste of time.
- Young kids don’t have rational reasons for why they eat the way they do. Reasons, yes. Rational reasons no.
- Research shows that young kids don’t have stable food preferences, and that you have only a 50/50 shot at predicting what they’ll eat. No better than a coin toss. Read You Can’t Feed Your Way Out of a Picky-Eating Problem.
Chances are your child has gotten into the habit of eating certain kind of foods.
- And the habit causes your kid to select certain foods repeatedly. Every time this happens, the habit is reinforced and strengthened.
The problem is that eating habits masquerade as food preferences.
- Once you get it into your head that your child doesn’t like, or won’t eat, certain kinds of food, it’s incredibly difficult to feed them to her—“It’s mean to make my kid eat food she doesn’t like.” So then you narrow the range of foods you provide and your child’s food restrictions are reinforced. It’s a vicious cycle.
3) Introduce as much textural variation as your toddler can tolerate. Don’t expect your child to make big textural leaps.
Stop thinking of foods primarily in terms of nutrients and start thinking of them in terms of texture.
- Yogurt isn’t calcium and protein. It’s soupy. It’s slurpy. It’s gooey. It’s great!
Then, consciously vary the textural characteristics of the food you offer your child. For some kids this is quite easy: Crunchy cereal at breakfast? Serve gooey PB&J at lunch. Smooth oatmeal at breakfast? Consider crunchy crackers at lunch. For more reluctant eaters you have to move more slowly:
- Incrementally expose your child to small textural changes. Start with a puree of peas, then mix in one or two finely chopped peas, then move on to larger lumps, and bigger bumps. Read about the process of slowly changing texture of food in For extreme fruit and vegetable avoiders…
- Introduce textural variety by switching up the brands that you buy. The very characteristic that makes manufactured products successful—they are dependably the same every time you buy them—makes them lethal to the parent trying to expand a toddler’s textural tolerance. Read How Brands Bite You in the Butt!
Remember to talk to your tot about your goals, your aspirations and the textural changes you’re making.
- Kids, even young ones, need to be in the know. (You might as well be up front, you’ll never be able to put one over on your little lovely anyway.)
4) Be brave.
Serve more of what you want your child to eat.
- Then be content even when he eats less than you would want. If your tot tastes one bite of a new texture you have a reason to celebrate! I’m serious. One bite.
Finally, stop assuming you have to provide foods your kid will eat.
- Instead, start assuming it’s your kid’s job to start eating the foods you provide.
- What if he doesn’t? I’ll get to that in another next post. Until then, practice giving your child limited choices around meals and snacks —“Do you want yogurt or apples?”—but don’t cater to her demands. Catering only teaches kids the habit of holding out.
Good luck and let me know how it goes!
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~