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:
How to include all kids on Halloween.
Do you have a kid with food allergies?
If you’d like to include all kids - including those with food allergies or those who have medical issues that prevent them from eating candy - in Halloween, then consider being part of the Teal Pumpkin Project! This important project encourages families to display a teal pumpkin and have non-food options available for kids who can’t have standard candies. You can even add your house to the map HERE so trick-or-treaters know where to find safe treats.
We know that it’s tricky maneuvering the food allergy world. In fact, both Judy and myself have food allergies, and I (Megan) grew up with a severe anaphylactic allergy in my immediate family. It’s hard.
If you have an allergic kiddo, try to focus on language about “keeping you safe” when discussing allergies. Phrases like, “All bodies react differently to foods. Some people can eat all foods, but some people can’t. Your body doesn’t like xyz, so in order to keep you safe we have to have other options.”
Make sure to have alternative treats for your kiddo to enjoy too. There are some great common allergen-free candies at Target, where you can also find a teal pumpkin most years (and it's reusable)!
You can also have alternative options to candy all together. Some ideas include:
If you're interested in joining the Teal Pumpkin Project, here's how to participate:
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!
Corn on the cob can have a nutrient-rich place in your family's diet.
What's the deal with corn?
We’ve seen people mention that “corn has no nutritional value.” When it comes to whole corn, this couldn’t be further from the truth, friends!
(By the way, the term “no nutritional value” doesn’t really apply to food when you think about it. Yes, many foods are more nutrient rich than others, but almost every food supplies something nutritionally, even if it’s just calories. This is especially true for veggies and fruits - they all have some sort of nutritional value.)
Did you know that corn has helped sustain civilizations for millennia? If it were void of nutrients it wouldn’t have helped grow populations like it has. Yes, corn byproducts are now overused in the processed food industry and in raising livestock, but whole corn kernels are a great source of fiber, zeaxanthin and lutein (both important phytochemicals), potassium, B vitamins, and magnesium. Sweet corn is also usually non-GMO for those worried about it.
Corn is technically a vegetable - yes, a starchy, higher-carbohydrate one - and kids are drawn to it because eating it on the cob is novel and fun. It’s also a “safe” flavor for many kids who are reluctant to eat new foods, so having corn on the plate may get them going and trying other options. Remember, eating begets eating! Once they’re on a roll they may be more open minded. (We go through all of this in our toddler course!) Babies can have corn on the cob too - they tend to really like it! Just serve it on the cob cooked very well so it's soft.
Side note: corn on the cob holders are fun novelty tools for older kiddos (who won’t pull them out of corn and poke themselves - you know your kiddo best with this)! We found Interlocking Corn Holders by Zyliss at Whole Foods today and were so pumped to use them for corn on the cob with dinner! Check out Walmart, Target or Amazon for great corn on the cob holders.
Switch up the crust.
Who likes pizza night?
Have you tried cauliflower crust pizza? Yes, it's trendy right now, and some see it as "diet-y"...but we like cauliflower crust pizza for those who need a wheat alternative or people who want to add more veggies to their life in a tasty way. Don't feel like you "have to" try it or that other crust isn't "healthy" - it's just an alternative to check out and integrate into your menu if you enjoy it!
Cauliflower crusts come as just crusts that you heat and top or as fully-topped, ready to heat and eat pizzas. You can also make it from scratch, but we usually don't have time for that on busy weekdays!
Our favorite cauliflower crust options include those from Trader Joe's and Milton's brand at Costco, but many retailers are making their own cauliflower crust.
Why try cauliflower crust pizza? Different crusts offer different flavors, textures and nutrition. We want kids to eat all sorts of foods and be comfortable with different flavors so they can have varied, flexible palates and aren't thrown off by new ingredients.
We like to top our pizza with chopped tomatoes and mushrooms cooked from frozen, but choose your favorite toppings! If you can, let your kids help top the pizzas for a fun activity that also makes them excited to eat.
To make cauliflower pizza from a frozen crust (un-topped):
Serve with veggies and/or fruit of your choice! (We did shredded carrots and quartered grapes.)
Ice cube trays add novelty to mealtime.
How do you use ice cube trays? My sweet hubby picked up these summery silicone trays at the Target Dollar Spot (I’m sure my 5 year old had something to do with it) and it got me thinking of ALL the ways ice cube trays can be helpful with kids - and adults - of all ages! Here are some of our ideas:
Add some fun to your kid's afternoon snack.
Any snack on a stick can help kids become more interested in eating - think about how much fun it is to eat food in this way! Make our peanut butter yogurt dip (see below for allergen modifications) and pair it with pretzel stick, plus strawberries on a skewer. Safety tip: use kitchen scissors to cut the sharp end off the skewer, and don’t serve this to a young toddler who may poke themselves! Always supervise eating, especially with new tools.
Megan's DEVOURED this snack. It was the perfect sweet, salty and crunchy combo that was also full of fiber, protein and fat (the three key nutrients for keeping our bodies full and our blood sugar more regulated).
To make the yogurt dip, combine:
Allergy Families: use Kite Hill almond yogurt or coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt, sunflower seed butter or almond butter instead of peanut butter, and gluten-free pretzels instead of wheat pretzels. Strawberry allergy? Serve with blueberries and bananas instead
Great for the whole family!
You know those fast, easy, delicious dinners that you love but always forget to make? Yeah, this is one of them for me.
I play around with different tortillas, and this brown rice version from Trader Joe's was pretty good! We use their fat free beans, not because we avoid fat (we think dietary fat is waaaay important!), but because the other types at Trader Joe’s are kinda spicy and my girls haaaaate spicy still, despite numerous exposures! (We're working on it.)
Here's what you need:
Here’s how we made them:
Particular toddler at home? Let them build their own fajita and make sure to serve familiar foods with new ones so they’re not overwhelmed by unfamiliar options. We have more tips like this to help with your picky eater in our Toddler course.
Baby at home (6+ months)? Omit salt and serve deconstructed - shrimp, cooked peppers/onions, tortilla (soft), avocado strips, and refried beans plopped on the tray or presented on loaded NumNum GOOtensil. Looking to do baby-led weaning with your little one? Check out our Infant course.
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.
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!