One step at a time.
Hey everyone! OT/feeding therapist Foodie Judy here with more techniques to help your child’s eating habits improve through play!
Your child’s sensory system helps determine which kinds of food he or she eats. The inputs food gives us via our sensory system can be either positive or negative, and when children struggle to process these inputs correctly, food can seem really scary or off-putting. One common issue is a strong dislike for touching wet or sticky foods like pasta with sauce, hummus, “juicy” fruit or peanut butter on toast. Does your kid dislike these foods too?
My job as a feeding therapist is to help kids struggling with sensory, developmental, oral motor, or behavioral issues around food become more competent, successful eaters. When children have sensory challenges with food, we introduce those textures in a less threatening way - through play!
In this post, we are continuing our sensory play strategies using these wet textures. In our last post about this we started with dry mixed textures, so if your tot is struggling or you want to help develop and challenge their sensory system, check out that post too!
Here are my tips for successful sensory play with a wet/sticky bin:
Keep in mind the following end goals:
What causes a dislike of mixed textures?
Do you have a child who hates mixed texture foods like casseroles or soups? Perhaps they don’t like toppings on their sandwich or pizza...sound familiar? Judy here to discuss some occupational therapy strategies utilizing sensory play that can decrease selective eating. The dislike of mixed textures originates from the sensory system and your child’s level of tolerance for different tactile (touch) inputs.
Interestingly enough, when you let your child play with mixed textures in a safe, no-pressure way (where they don’t have to eat it), you help their comfort level when they’re presented mixed texture foods at mealtime. Tactile tolerance also helps in every day life - it will be easier to put sunscreen on their face, clip their nails, or wash their hair when they can tolerate these types of touch. This is just one type of tactile input - dry items - and we’ll show you in upcoming posts how to transition to wet or even “gooey” textures, which helps them to tolerate multiple types of foods when eaten.
Read all about sensory processing in this post.
How do we do this in a gradual way using dry textures first? See images below for examples of each step.
Words of advice:
Because kids grow up way too fast!
I don’t know what it is about fall and the holidays that makes me feel all crafty, except, I’m not the super artsy type. I can’t just come up with a craft on my own or make a homemade witch out of pipe cleaners and twine (serious props to the mamas who have this skill - please send me the materials and a tutorial.)
Thank goodness for Pinterest and the simple craft inspirations I find there. I don’t know who originally posted this, but it’s such a cute way to commemorate this holiday and have a record of your tots’ little feet. We did this a few years ago, and I can’t believe how small their feet were then!
This will be something I hope to hang up each year, even when I’m a grandma, to remind myself of a time when Halloween meant pure magic for my little kids. I know they won’t always be like this - eventually trick-or-treating will be uncool, and they may decide to not dress up for a few (or many) years. Hopefully they’ll inherit my Halloween obsession and will always think costumes are cool though!
Don’t get caught up in what you are or aren’t doing to celebrate with your kids this season. No need to pressure yourself to turn into "Perfect Mom" - it just doesn’t exist. Just carving a pumpkin together can be such an incredible memory for your whole family, and for many families it’s plenty of celebrating.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to do a craft, do something like this - it just takes some non-toxic orange and white tempera paint, a sharpie, and a small canvas. Simply paint the canvas and let it dry. Then, put some white washable paint on your little ones’ feet and make the ghosts (this is the hard part - protect your floor!) and let it dry. Finish it off by using a sharpie for their eyes and words!
Don’t forget to date it on the back! One day, you’ll smile looking at those little ghost feet!
Spices are recommended for babies.
For decades parents were advised to serve babies plain, unseasoned foods. Dietitians and feeding professionals are now realizing that in order for children to learn to enjoy a variety of flavors, we have to serve them a variety of flavors!
Of course, it's important to go easy on salt - we do recommend avoiding salting baby’s food until after 12 months when possible, as their kidneys are immature. A little salt is OK - they’ll likely get sodium in naturally salty foods or restaurant/packaged foods anyway. However, all other safe spices are fair game!
Does that mean baby can have spicy food too? Yes, but start small. Some babies love spicy food and will take to it well, while others may not enjoy it for months or years to come.
Spices aren’t just for flavor - they have health benefits too! Cinnamon may improve blood sugar, and turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory effects! We love pumpkin pie spice, which is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom, usually available during the holiday season (but we use it year-round). It’s awesome in oatmeal, yogurt, muffins, quick breads and coffee for you!
Raising adventurous eaters involves offering all types of safe textures, food shapes, and flavors. That means serving food both with and without spices/herbs, cooking it in various ways, and presenting it differently as often as you can. If you have our online course for infants, make sure to check out the Baby-led Weaning Grocery List for all the ways to safely serve foods from all food groups!
Embrace the mess.
We love baby-led weaning (infant self-feeding), where you skip baby food and let baby feed herself whole foods from the start. Babies eat what the family eats (being mindful of choking hazards) and learn to integrate into the family's food landscape from the start.
To read more about the benefits of baby-led weaning (BLW), check out this free printable.
We’ve been teaching baby-led weaning from a dietitian’s and feeding therapist’s perspective - evidence-based, flexible (not rigid), and practical for busy families - for almost 5 years to thousands of parents across the globe.
Our fully online, self-paced baby-led weaning course takes 90 minutes to watch (no heavy reading!) and includes:
Go back to the course when you have another baby - it doesn’t expire as long as we are hosting it (which we plan to do for a very long time)! PLUS, as a client you will get access to our Feeding Littles-Clients Only Facebook Group!
Thank you for letting us join you on your feeding journey!
Get your snack on, friends.
What snacks does a dietitian love?? I wanted to share my go-to options, especially for road trips - but these work well even when you're at home or sending snacks to school. Y’all know how important the snack game is with kids (because HANGRY = DISASTER when you factor in tons of excitement and not enough sleep), and while traveling we up our game so we have lots of options.
I always try to incorporate high protein snacks and fruit/veggies into the mix because protein/fiber balance blood sugar, which helps everyone feel better between meals. Remember, snacks are all about honoring our body’s hunger signals between meals and feeding ourselves the tasty, enjoyable fuel we need to feel our best. Plus, little humans have little tummies so they need to eat often.
Below are some of our favorite options you can rotate into your snack rotation:
My kids don’t have any allergies - and I regularly serve allergens to help prevent the development of allergies - but if your kid has an allergy, please modify. Always have water available as well.
A little salt is OK.
In our infant course on baby-led weaning, we recommend going easy on baby’s salt intake because babies' kidneys are immature and likely can’t handle large amounts of sodium. (Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, both minerals...so when discussing sodium we are indirectly referencing salt.)
It is believed that the adequate intake of sodium for babies is around 400 mg, which is about a pinch of salt per day. However, breast milk contains about 42 mg of sodium per 8 oz, so do we need to completely eliminate salt from baby’s solid foods? The quick answer - no.
A little salt is OK in helping baby’s body absorb water. As it turns out, sodium is considered an essential nutrient! Many foods naturally contain sodium anyway, so baby is already eating sodium when getting many foods in their whole form.
However...we don't have any data to prove that going over 400 mg is absolutely detrimental. It's more of a theoretical precaution.
To stay on the safe side we recommend not directly salting baby’s food when possible. When roasting veggies, avoid salting baby’s portion, or don’t put salt on the beef patty you’re grilling for baby to eat.
Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid sodium, like when you’re eating out or if you’re using packaged foods. As long as baby’s entire diet isn’t made up of salty or processed foods, this shouldn’t be a problem - no counting salt required.
Lastly, try to go easy on super salty foods like (quartered) olives, cured meats and pickles. These foods are fine here and there, we just wouldn’t serve them to baby daily due to their very high sodium content.
The adequate intake of sodium for toddlers is 1000 milligrams, so at that point we recommend salting your toddler’s food as you would your own to integrate them into the family meal. We love sea salt and Himalayan pink sea salt for its flavors and trace mineral content.
Hydration is key.
Sick kiddo at home? One of the hardest parts of parenting is managing illness. You may have noticed that eating and hydration can be greatly affected by illness, and sometimes it takes days - or weeks - for kids to get back on track. Here are some quick tips when you have a sick kiddo:
Different types of pasta offer different flavors, textures and nutrition.
So many kids love pasta - we call them "noo-noos" in our house. What's not to love? They're easy and fun to eat and are topped with delicious sauces.
I’m especially a fan of all the new alternative pastas like Banza is made from chickpeas and has a ton of filling protein and fiber. One 2-oz portion (which is a pretty decent size) has 14 grams of protein, just 4 grams short of their total daily need. We serve it so many ways - here's a few ideas:
Remember, kids learn to eat what is served to them, so mix it up! Offer different types of pastas with different presentations and different sauces. Sticking to the same dishes increases their likelihood of picky eating...try to get creative when you can!
Should you start earlier than one?
We hear the term “food before 1 is just for fun” thrown out in our Facebook group (search Feeding Littles Group to join) and in various Baby-led Weaning communities. The spirit of this phrase is great - don’t stress about the quantity of food your baby eats, and don’t worry if they just play - but the idea that EXPOSURE to food is unimportant before 1 could not be further from the truth for a variety of reasons. (This phrase is literally keeping some parents from offering any food before one.)
Since babies need exogenous iron (and zinc) starting around six months due to depletion of iron stores from birth, food does have a nutritional role, and that’s why we recommend high iron foods like softly cooked meats, lentils and beans starting at 6 months. (Mix beans/lentils with other foods like guacamole so baby can pick them up without the pincer grasp.)
We now know that in most babies, the delay of allergenic foods (peanuts, shellfish, eggs, etc.) actually INCREASES a baby’s risk of allergy to that food, so not introducing these foods close to 6 months can actually be more harmful in the long run.
Research suggests that babies who don’t get to practice with foods of various textures by 9 months are statistically more likely to have feeding issues in elementary school. Furthermore, not exposing a baby to food until they are 1 ignores their biological drive to eat and interest in food.
For sensory, developmental, motor, social, nutritional, allergenic, and oral coordination reasons, please start introducing foods to your baby when they’re around 6 months and start showing readiness signs like sitting unassisted, bringing foods to their mouth, no extrusion reflex, and good head/neck control unless told otherwise by your pediatrician.
Side note: having a pincer grasp is not a sign of readiness for food, and gagging when they start is normal and protective! Babies need practice to learn how to eat! Check our blog post for more feeding myths! Need help feeding your baby? Join the thousands of families who have used our online Infant Course to feel confident in feeding baby!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!