We often make the mistake about focusing only on the actual consumption of food when feeding our children. It is important to remember that mealtime is a sensory experience involving all the senses. Here's how:
Visual: Presentation matters. For example, which of the meals below looks most appealing? Chefs are specially trained in creating visually appealing meals. The way you present a food to a child makes a difference. Think about favorite colors, combinations of food on the plate, and the dishes used to make your child want to come sit at the table.
Tactile: If you don't want to touch it, why would you want to eat it? Think about this when presenting food to your child. For example, holding a banana in the peel is a very different tactile experience than picking up slices of banana. You may present some utensils as an option or first just get your child used to touching a new food before asking them to taste it.
Smell: Good smell leads to willingness to taste. This is a conditioned phenomenon. From the time we first start eating, we learn that when something smells appealing to us, it will taste good too. Good smells can also increase our appetite (think of the hunger that hits you when you smell cooking garlic). Encourage your child to smell foods before asking them to take a taste. Talk about how foods smell and make sure that the smells at mealtime are appealing to your child.
Hearing: This one may sound odd, but think of mealtime experiences in various places - a crowded family restaurant, a busy cafe, a small romantic restaurant, or in your own dining room. Sound does shape our experiences. Negative experiences with mealtime in an overwhelming environment can have an effect on how we perceive food. Trying new foods should happen in an environment that is pleasant to the child.
Taste: Finally, of course taste is important in the mealtime experience. If something tastes good, we are much more likely to eat it again. We often start by giving children bland foods to try: plain peas, broccoli, carrot sticks, and so on. Don't be afraid to experiment with food combinations, spices, and condiments to ensure that foods taste good from the start! More tips on how to do this will be coming on the blog!
Introducing a new food can be daunting. Take this common scenario for example: you want your toddler eating more vegetables so you put some peas on his dinner plate. You then plead with him to just eat a bite. He finally does and then spits the peas out. You try to get him to eat some again, desperate to get the vegetables in him. This turns into a power struggle complete with screaming and tears until you finally give up. Chances are you won't present peas for a while, if ever again. However, research shows us that continued exposures to a new food do increase rates of consumption. Therefore, it is important to continue to expose a child. So, how do you present a new food and avoid the battle? Extremely gradually. Here are some steps to try:
1. Put the new food on your plate and model trying it. It is common that a child's first experience with a food is the first time they even see it. Wouldn't you be wary trying something if you've never even seen it before? Making mealtime a family affair is crucial. Talk about how the food looks, tastes, feels in your mouth, and so on.
2. Put the food out in a bowl and model serving yourself. Encourage your child to serve the food onto his plate as well. Do not put the pressure of eating on him - simply praise any new interactions with the food.
3. Encourage your child to explore the food with all the senses before even talking about consuming it. Look at it, touch it, smell it.
4. Take baby steps when it comes to tasting and consuming the food. Don't do too much in one exposure. Start with kissing it, putting the food to the teeth and tongue, and then eventually baby bites. Don't forget to praise any new interaction with the food! Make the presence of the food as positive of an experience as possible!
Stay tuned as this series about introducing foods continues!
In this food play activity, kids dip banana pieces into crumbs made out of fruit loops. This is easy, fun, relatively mess free, and a great way to entertain your kids while exposing them to foods and different textures!
1. Put some fruit loops (or anything that can easily be squished into crumbs) in a bowl. Other ideas are graham crackers, ritz type crackers, other cereals, etc. Slice up some bananas. The slices should be big enough for a child to hold onto. For a child that is working on exposure to different textures, you can keep part of the peel on for them to hold onto. Each child should have their own plate to squeeze crumbs onto.
2. Show your child how to squeeze the fruit loops into crumbs onto their plate. This is a good time to embed some academic goals. You can talk about colors, patterns, or work on counting skills just to name a few. This is also a great fine motor activity!
3. Show your child how to pick up the banana pieces and dip them into the crumbs. Bigger chunks of the fruit loops can also be pushed into the banana. Here, the child is exposed to touching different textures and the smell of the banana. This is a great fun way to expose a child that may have difficulties with combined textures or the softer texture of the banana without the pressure of eating it.
4. Encourage further interactions if and only if your child is ready. Remember, trying foods should be fun and gradual. The purpose is to create fun exposures to different foods and take the pressure of eating away. Depending on what your child is ready for you can try smelling the banana, licking the crumbs off, and taking different size bites. Have fun with this and take the cues from your child! Praise new interactions and talk about the characteristics of the food : How did it feel in your mouth? How did it smell? What was it like to chew it?
Please comment if you tried this and have any questions or feedback!
Why does feeding matter?
Before discussing what a feeding problem might look like, it is important to consider what successful feeding looks like. This won’t be the first time I make this statement: feeding is not solely about growth and nutrition. We have a bad habit of equating normal growth with normal feeding. On multiple occasions, concerned families have told me that although they are stressed about mealtime, their pediatrician informed them that there is no problem because their child’s growth looks fine. Again, I reiterate, feeding is about much more than growth. So, what else does feeding entail?
Socialization: Think back to the last few special events that you’ve been to – birthday parties, weddings, etc. Was there food? Of course there was! Food is often the cornerstone of our social events. Mealtime may be one of the few times that a family sits down together. We often schedule get-togethers at restaurants and socialize while we eat. Mealtime is a time of relationship development.
Communication: Mealtime is an opportunity for a child to learn and practice important communication skills. Children have a chance to indicate likes and dislikes, practice manners, and learn functional communication to get their needs and wants met.
Skill Development: As children learn to eat, they develop many different skills. They learn oral motor skills as they try different textures. They learn fine motor skills as they use utensils to spear their food and bring it to their mouth. Children learn to gradually expand the amount of time they can sit in one place.
Feeding is important and feeding challenges can occur regardless of where a child is on a growth curve. It is a complex process with many components to navigate through. The last thing we should be doing is blowing off concerns by referring back to growth charts and nutrition. If any of the components mentioned above are impacted, we need to be determining where the feeding challenge lies and how to best intervene.