Remember when Baby was an infant, and people always asked, “is she a good sleeper?” Brace yourself for the toddlerhood version: “Is she a picky eater?”
It’s common for toddlers to have difficulty accepting new textures and foods, which can be hard on parents and caregivers, who want to just want to make sure the toddlers in their lives are getting all the nutrients they need to keep growing healthy and strong. Baby and her peers may have other plans, though. For many toddlers, the problem with texture is that they’ve started their exploration of solid foods with plenty of purees and smooth mashes. As they get older, more and more often they’re faced with strange and unfamiliar textures, as well as the brand new flavors they’ve only just started getting used to.
Toddlers aren’t alone in wanting to take their time to get to know new foods, either – adults get wary about trying new things, too – it’s just that by the time they’re adults, there are a lot fewer foods in the world they haven’t tried. Baby may just need a little extra time to get acquainted with the new foods in her life, too, especially foods with new and different textures. Some of the trick to getting Baby to give new foods a try just comes down to giving her time to get acquainted with new things, and for some toddlers, there are some foods that are just going to hit the ick-factor, no matter how you present them. For the foods that fall somewhere in between, though, there are a few strategies that many parents find helpful.
- Something old, something new: If it’s textures in general that your toddler doesn’t seem to quite trust, it can be helpful to introduce these new textures in the form of familiar flavors – for example, spreading an old favorite like applesauce across a stick of toast. Toddlers who are used to purees, and are just starting to move in the direction of solids, are in for a big adjustment, and keeping parts of the meal familiar can help keep that adjustment from feeling too drastic.
- Gradual intensification: Some textures are harder for some toddlers to get used to than others – if you notice Baby having trouble with a particular texture, there’s no harm in easing her into it a little. Soups can be soft, easy ways to introduce soft chunks of vegetables, for example, and lumpier mashed vegetables can be a great transition point between purees and full-on finger foods.
- Repeat exposure: Toddlers often need to be exposed to a new food multiple times before giving it a try, so if Baby just isn’t giving that chewy new food a shot, don’t turn it into a battle. Instead, try letting it go and trying again next week.
- Make it fun: If there is a particular condiment or dip Baby likes, incorporating it into the meal can help keep her interest, and keep a new meal from feeling too unfamiliar. Sure, ketchup isn’t a great match for carrots, but if it gets Baby to take a bite it’s worth the pairing.
- Talk about it: Baby might be more willing to try a new food if you take a little time before mealtime to get her interested in the ingredients. You can talk to her about the garden the vegetables might have grown in, or the fact that the potatoes came from underground. You can even get her involved by giving her the chance to lend a hand with the meal prep. Knowing what to expect will take away some of her apprehension, and being involved could even get her.
- Offer rewards: It doesn’t work for every family, but in many cases, a little praise can go a long way. One way to make this work over time is to set up a sticker chart, or another system you think will work well for Baby, and be consistent with rewards as she tries new foods as a way to encourage her to try different textures. If Baby has the incentive to at least try new things will give you a better chance to figure out the food she likes from the new things you’ve offered, so you can begin to integrate them into her regular meals. Other families choose not to use incentives at mealtimes because they’re wary of setting up habits that might last longer than they’re comfortable with. Charts can be great for this, though, since toddlers can get into the habit of tasting new foods through the chart, but a chart building to one big reward at the end does have an end in sight.
It’s not unusual for toddlers to shy away from new foods and textures, but certain red flags may be indicative of a larger problem. Be sure to bring it to your toddler’s pediatrician’s attention if she seems to have difficulty swallowing, pain when chewing, or if you are concerned about whether she is getting enough to eat.