Understanding your Picky Eater’s Sensory Food Preference.
Inside: Why are some kids picky eater, and how to get your picky eater to try new food? Hint: By decipheing their sensory prefrence for the food!
What if I told you — Picky eating in toddlers is not intentional selective eating of what tastes good to them! There’s more to it (much more)…It’s not a sensory food issue, but it’s a complex concept.
Food is the most sensory experience a child goes through. Really!
Other than the auditory sense all 4 senses are involved in eating for everyone, but especially for kids! (and sometimes even the auditory, I’ve heard my son say to me, mom I can “hear” my carrot when I eat it!)
The sense of touch, smell, taste, and the visual sense; all 4 are always involved in the food for kids! Plus there is texture, shape, and size of food in their mouth.
All these senses being involved in every food they eat is the reason why some kids are not open to eating new food right away!
Kids are unlike adults, who understand – this may not feel or taste good to me but it’s good for me, so I’ll try it. With an understanding like this adults work on developing a liking for foods that they understand to be good for them, even if it doesn’t taste good right away!
For kids – Food has to “feel good” to eat it. Period. They can’t trust food otherwise, it’s their animal instinct that kicks in.
HOWEVER, as parents, we gotta find our way out of this “doesn’t feel good”, or “I don’t like it” scenario for our kids.
But the catch is — we can-not coerce kids to “eat healthy” (not for long), we must help them develop a liking for these foods, that we deem healthy, slowly and steadily like the tortoise.
AND…all this is possible! We can help our kids develop a liking for foods that we think are healthy for them.
Here’s how to help your picky eater eat better —
by understanding their sensory preferences or sensory food aversions, and helping them mask those sensory preferences for sometime, till the child develops a liking for the taste of the food!
Confused? It’s complex. Let me try with an example —
My son does not like small round food, he clearly states I don’t like “green” (he calls peas green), and blueberries. But, if I give him mashed peas or mashed blueberries, that he does not recognize well, he’ll eat the dish without complaining.
Point to note- So, he had no issue with the taste, but rather the shape and size!
#Funfact: My daughter is exactly the opposite; she loves peas and blueberries. So for the longest time, until I figured out he actually doesn’t have an issue with the taste of either of those foods, it’s just the shape and size and until I learned how to disguise my son’s sensory food aversion, I got him to take out all the peas from the dish for his little sister, who was a baby then and she practised her “pincher grip” with them and ate them.
So now if I’m making a dish where peas are a major ingredient I pulse the peas in the food processor a little, and blueberries get churned in smoothies and frozen soft serves…huh..#momlife
Related Post: 5 Practical Tips to Reduce Food Waste with Kids.
How to decipher which sensory dislike does your child have?
There’s always a pattern!!!
They may not like mushy foods, or maybe chewy foods or watery foods, sour foods!
Chances are you already have seen the pattern, and will realize it if you think hard enough!
For us —
My daughter does not like the foods she has to chew hard. In reality, she does not have the patience to chew them, for her food should be quick to eat or grab and go kinda things, so she can do “other more important things”.
BUT I give them apples for snacks and breakfast in the car seat, and by the time we reach where we have to reach she finishes most of her slices…and apples need a heck of chewing!
My son likes tough to chew on foods, so if he doesn’t like what’s served for dinner, he’ll munch on a couple of large carrots or nuts. He’s never eaten mashed potatoes, or even restaurant pancakes (they’re too mushy for him).
So you see there is a pattern on the kind of texture they’ll like to eat, it’s not usually the food’s taste as such, because their taste buds have an amazing variety and it’s usually the appeal of the food that makes a child, not like it.
Related Read: Reasons to Ditch Processed and Packaged Snacks for Kids.
How to adjust the texture or shape or size of the food.
If your child likes crunchy or hard texture, cook the vegetables less, or serve veggies as sides – cucumbers and carrots are a staple for my son.
If your child likes mushy texture or easy to eat ones – instead of chopping the veggies, pulse them in a food processor, they make veggies very quick to eat.
How to help your child learn to like foods with different textures.
Biggest tip – Always serve a variety of food on their plate – 25% of what they like, 25% of what is good for them and what they may or may not eat, and 25% of what they most likely won’t eat, but everyone else is having it, so they get it too.
We have this proportion usually, and very soon, the kids start to eat more of what they may and may not eat, and start testing the most likely won’t eat.
Now, I don’t want to set your expectations high, if there are things in there that your 3 yr old says, I don’t want it..they’ll not eat it.
It’s just the age and preference combination, can’t help that, unless you change the texture or hide them in other food.
When my kids were toddlers, their meals were a bunch of sides and a very small serving of the actual dish that’s prepared for the meal. Which meant fruits and veggies in every meal, literally.
They grew up to have a pretty wide taste bud. We practised BLW with both my kids, so that has a lot to do with their autonomy with food choices.
I hope this guide to how to decipher your child’s food sensory preference or sensory food aversion is helpful for you to help your picky eater, eat what they would not eat otherwise.