Some toddlers and preschoolers are picky and won’t try sushi or hummus. Some children go beyond typical pickiness and panic at the thought of even touching food with any texture to their lips. Children with hypersensitive palates often struggle with sensory processing problems that cause them to avoid different textures in their foods. You might be completely sick of pureed veggies and applesauce, but those foods might be the only ones that your little guy will tolerate. Instead of pulling out your hair when your child points out the grain-of-sand-sized lump in his food, gradually help him become desensitized to different textures.
1 Know what your munchkin is willing to eat and what he really likes. Some little ones with sensory sensitivities will only eat hot or cold foods, foods without strong smells, foods of only one color or foods that are only one type of taste. Start your progression to chunky soup with small baby steps and start with what he readily accepts.
2 Encourage your child to play with his food! Although you may have grown up with the mantra, “Don’t play with your food,” your kiddo may need to ignore that. Food becomes less of a boogey man when it’s oozing between his fingers. Finger-paint with tapioca pudding or stick a broccoli “tree” in his mashed potatoes. With time, your child will grow accustomed to different textures and feel comfortable enough to eat them.
3 Invite your little one to help prepare different types of foods without the expectation that he must eat the food. Maybe he can stir the pot of chicken stew or spoon out salsa onto Daddy’s plate. The more time he spends around food in non-threatening ways, the more he will accept it.
4 Provide objects your child can chew on to help with oral aversions. If your kiddo just doesn't like anything near his mouth, try offering chewy toys specifically for children with sensory processing issues. Your little one may need to desensitize his mouth by chewing on something safe and non-edible.
5 Offer the same new food for many days in a row. Let your child know that he doesn’t need to eat it, and just let it remain on his plate for a while. After he becomes comfortable with the culinary “intruder,” he may take a bite or two.
6 Slowly add more textures to food he already enjoys. Mashed potatoes are a perfect example. After serving mashed potatoes for several days, try mashing them a little less to leave slightly larger lumps. If your child eats without complaint, continue to serve the slightly larger lumped potatoes. After a few days, make even lumpier mashed potatoes. Try the same process with other foods. Gradually add chopped apples to applesauce or chunks of veggies or meat to creamy soups. Try stirring cooked rice into pureed veggies. The key is to make changes slowly. If your child complains or refuses to eat a modified food, revert back to the smoother texture and try again another day.
7 Change up the texture of your child’s favorite foods by adding wheat germ to his favorite pureed foods. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon wheat germ per 4 ounces of puree. Gradually increase the amount of wheat germ as he grows accustomed to the new textures.
- Expect setbacks. Maybe your little munchkin ate rice in his soup yesterday, but won’t touch those evil grains today. That’s okay. Try again tomorrow. Stay calm and positive during mealtimes, no matter how frustrated you really are.
- Do not force-feed your child. Let him have the control or he will only strengthen his resolve to not eat anything with texture. Contact your child’s doctor if you think he isn't receiving proper nutrition.
- Center of Development Pediatric Therapies: Eating Issues
- Indiana Institute of Disability and Community: Mealtime and Children on the Autism Spectrum: Beyond Picky, Fussy, and Fads
- Sensory-Processing-Disorder.com: Finally There is Help for your Picky Eaters!
- The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Texture Progression: The Effects of Oral Sensory Defensiveness on Oral Motor Function in ASD
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