Here at Learn to Love Food we just finished 4 weeks of food play activities focused around different types of play (all activities can be found in the categories on the right). The next segment of Learn To Love Food activities is about texture.
We learn a lot about a food’s texture from just looking at it. We see how something pours, jiggles or breaks. Sometimes we stop right there, say, “I don’t like the look of that,” and move on to something we know we like.
Sometimes we poke food with a spoon or fork to learn a little more, bring a piece up to our nose and smell it. If it smells ok, we might taste it with our tongue. If it tastes ok, we’ll try a bite. Maybe we’ll love it, maybe we won’t, but we have to be willing to try it to find out and to try it, we have to get comfortable with the texture.
We use our senses to learn about food. Our hands, fingertips and mouth are packed with nerve endings sending information to our brain. As soon as babies can move their hands to their mouths (around 3 months) they are using their hands and mouths to learn about texture and taste.
Many picky eaters have had a disturbance to this sensory exploration stage in the first few years of life. If kids have been sick, haven’t been able to eat by mouth for a time or felt pain during or after eating caused by reflux or food allergies, they may have developed aversions to foods or textures they never learned about or that made them feel sick once. David Solat gives a great explanation of the psychology of food aversions in this article for CNN. Learning about the textures of foods and learning to enjoy touching them is a huge step for hesitant eaters to take towards trying and eating new foods!
Picky eaters are often behind on their oral motor skills, which affects the textures they eat, too. The ‘kids’ classics’, chicken nuggets, french fries and noodles, are often picky eaters’ favorites because of their bland tastes, but also because of their soft textures. They don’t take a lot of chewing. When a picky eater can’t manage foods or just doesn’t eat a lot of foods, often we stop offering them, but then how do they learn about new foods?
If you think your child is having trouble chewing or swallowing certain foods, it’s a good idea to talk to their doctor and possibly get an evaluation from a feeding therapist. It’s also a good idea to start expanding the foods they interact with while getting help to move forward with oral motor skills.
The upcoming activities are fun ways to explore new foods and new textures! This week we’re going to play with purees and we’ll explore crunchy, soft and dissolvable foods over the next few weeks.
I hope you join the fun and try the activities! Comment and let us know how they go for you or share your variations!
Happy food play!