Skins and Peels

apple peel for sensory food play activity for food aversion and picky eatersThis post on peels was inspired by Clover over at Clover And Puck Magazine. It’s a common issue that kids “don’t like” fruit and veggie peels or gag on them, so thanks for the suggestion to address it here at Learn To Love Food!

We peel the skins off of fruits and veggies for toddlers for a few reasons: because skins and peels can pose a choking hazard for children who don’t have the oral motor skills needed for the harder peel or the mixed texture of fruit and peel, because kids gag on the peel or because we worry about pesticides or waxes that don’t wash off.

Often we start  cutting the skins off of fruits and veggies when kids are really young because we’re concerned about a choking hazard and then when they do have the oral motor skills (strong rotary chewing and tongue control) needed to eat the skins, they’re not used to them and say they don’t like them. Also, when we don’t have complete control of the foods we’re chewing, an unexpected piece can fall on the tongue and cause a gag. Gagging is not pleasant, so kids often “don’t like” foods that have made them gag in the past because they don’t like gagging.

It takes a lot of tongue control to chew and manage a mixed texture (a food that has more than one texture in a single bite). Each part of a mixed texture food takes a different amount of chewing to prepare. We need to hold both foods in our mouth by holding up the back of the tongue until we’re ready to swallow the whole bite or hold part of the food in our mouth while we piecemeal swallow parts that are already prepared. This is an advanced oral motor skill, especially with tougher foods like fruit and veggie peels!

If you’re concerned about ingesting the waxes on fruits and veggies, but want the nutrients that are in the peels, I suggest buying organic produce. Organic fruits and veggies often aren’t waxed and if they are it’s a natural, non-petroleum-based wax. It’s hard to decide which foods are worth spending extra on to buy organic. As a general rule, I try to buy organic foods if I’m going to eat the skins or cook with peel (like lemon or lime zest) or if they are part of the dirty dozen (fruits and veggies that consistently test highest for pesticides).

Here are a few fun ways to explore peels and skins with your child and work on the strong chewing skills needed to grind them up.

Language And Senses:

I like to start by making long strings of peel with a knife or vegetable peeler. This way the peel is easy to hold onto and if kids don’t have strong enough chewing skills to bite through peel, it keeps small pieces from falling on the tongue and causing gagging and possible choking.

A fun way to get used to the texture of peel is to make bite marks in it. This way we’re talking about how the food looks, not about eating or swallowing it (which kids who tend to gag on peel will probably resist) and kids get to feel what it feels like in their mouth. Making bite marks also allows kids to keep the peel in the front of their mouths where we test foods to make sure they’re safe and decide if we want to eat them.

Talk about how your bite marks and the peel look and feel. Is the peel smooth or bumpy? Is it hard or soft? Is it the same on both sides? How are the sides the same or different?

It takes a really strong grinding (rotary) chewing pattern to successfully chew fruit and veggie skins (much stronger than it takes to chew the softer meat of a fruit or veggie like apple, pear or cucumber). A good way to practice this grinding is by placing the peel on the bite surface of your child’s teeth and showing them how to really grind it up. Melanie Potock describes this as “dinosaur chewing” in this post on ways to decrease gagging for Karen Le Billon’s website. This sounds like a really fun way to get kids chomping to me!

Add Pretend Play:

If your child isn’t ready to put the peel near his mouth, you can start getting comfortable with it by using it as a building material or pretending with it. Make railroad tracks, a snake or dragon. If you have a really long piece of peel from going around and around the fruit or veggie (like in the picture above), you can make the peel bounce or hop like a bunny or kangaroo.

I hope these ideas get you started. How do you play with food? I’d love to hear all the fun things you thought of to do with fruit and veggie peels; comment and share your creations!

Enjoy and happy food play!!

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6 thoughts on “Skins and Peels

  1. Whoa. You are on top of it. You wrote all of this with less than 24 hour notice!? This is so helpful. My husband and I had always peeled our 2 year old’s fruit/veggies, especially apples and cucumbers, but we worried we started a bad habit when he had started to gag/spit out slices that had peels on them, especially when we weren’t serving — fruit trays at parties, etc. Other adults would raise an eyebrow when we’d stop to tediously cut all of the peels off with a plastic knife. Plus our son is one where we’ve hardly seen him reject a food — we usually have the opposite problem: overstuffing. So I never actually considered it an “advanced oral skill”! I am continually blown away by your site & how infrequently I stop, slow down, and ‘play’ with his food. Blowing my food world up, smart lady…thanks for what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

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