My Baby Won’t Eat! Tips from a Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist
My Baby Won’t Eat!
“She just pushes the food away and shakes her head ‘no’.” “He won’t take anything but his bottle!” “She gags every time I try to give her something with texture…”
Sound familiar? These days it seems as though everyone knows a child that can be described as a “selective eater”. Frustrated parents report food refusal, crying and gagging especially when attempting to transition from bottles and purees to table food. In extreme situations vomiting and poor weight gain may be present. When an underlying medical condition has been thoroughly ruled out, family and caregivers are mystified as to why an otherwise healthy child is having issues with eating. The good news is that most toddlers eventually accept a broader repertoire of tastes and textures. For those that continue to create havoc at mealtimes, here are some tried and true strategies that can help parents create a more positive feeding experience.
1. Increase acceptance of textures and tastes.
Selective eaters often flatly reject textured foods. The chunks in mixed, Stage III purees can cause gagging or refusal. Babies having difficulty transitioning from puree to thicker, coarser textures are often distressed when their food is not of homogeneous consistency. Parents can facilitate a careful transition to textures by thickening a favorite puree with crumbled Ritz crackers or rolled Rice Krispies. The amount of cracker or cereal should be advanced gradually depending on the child’s tolerance. Over the course of several feedings, many children will accept their favorite puree in a thick mashed potato consistency. At this point, other foods of similar texture can be presented.
Use of a food processor when preparing table foods is an excellent option. Most foods can be pureed and then bulked up to an accepted texture using crackers or cereal. Coarse ground and chopped consistencies are generally introduced around the time your baby turns two, but readiness for these foods is highly individual.
2. Change taste or texture- NOT BOTH!
In the early stages of transitional feeding, take the cue from the child. If he/she will only accept purees, introduce new purees with a different taste but the same texture/consistency. When increasing demands of texture, use an already accepted taste and modify it. Texture/consistency then becomes the only modification made to a familiar puree.
3. Take the fight out of feeding.
Many children who refuse to eat want to be in control. Providing the child with more opportunities to self-feed can be effective in changing mealtime dynamics. One way to do this is to increase the child’s exposure to nutritious but easily managed “finger foods”. For example, yams and potatoes can be boiled until soft, then skinned and cubed. Dipping pieces into catsup or even a readily recognized puree can be a fun activity for your toddler that may eventually lead to acceptance. A spoon coated in puree will give your picky eater an opportunity to try to self-feed, while you, the parent, use another spoon to supplement these attempts. If the child is not ready for picking up cubed or otherwise prepared foods, or has difficulty bringing a utensil to his or her mouth, use other surfaces such as the back of their hand or a plastic toy covered with puree for independent feeding.
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