When it comes to introducing new foods to children, most parents will claim they have it easy. For mums up and down the country, standing at the school gates and bragging over their child’s culinary exploits has become a form of competition.
However, the truth is most parents struggle when introducing new foods. Despite what mum says, little Lucie didn’t suddenly wander into the room, declare she adored pineapple and polish off the entire bowl. She sat there screaming for an hour and half and then, on the promise of a much-desired bowl of ice-cream, cautiously sucked on two chunks (before launching them across the room and declaring they were trying to poison her.)
It’s important to remember when your child seems reluctant to try new foods, that every child is different and that some things, regardless of age, we just don’t like. If it were simple, we wouldn’t live in a society, which offered orange juice “with” or “without” the bits.
The sensory properties of food (i.e. taste, smell, texture, colour and temperature) all play an extremely big part in our acceptance and tolerance of food whilst growing up. In children with sensory defensive disorders, this can prove exceptionally difficult, as every aspect is expertly scrutinised. Temperature, texture, even colour, has to be perfect or uniform. For a parent, this can be a game of trial and error.
However, there is light at the end of every tunnel; your tunnel might be longer, but with determination you’ll achieve the same result as every other parent.
So, what options do you have when introducing new foods to a child with a sensory defensive disorder?
It’s easy to dismiss children at the start; smaller brains, shorter attention span, easily persuaded – this should be easy, right? But in reality it’s very different: quite simply, they’re James Bond and you’re Dr. No. Any MI5 agent worth their salt won’t be susceptible to being force fed, or succumb to hunger if food is withdrawn. The tiny amount of vegetables you’ve secretly blended into a sauce to hide them, will be uncovered within the tiniest of mouthfuls. The spoon will be launched across the room like a bayonet, mouth clamped shut in defence: you are now the enemy.
In order to avoid this scenario, you need to earn your child’s trust, taking your time, take small steps and make tiny changes as you go. A good way to introduce this is by switching the type of food they currently enjoy. Try swapping Mild Cheese for Medium, Granny Smith apples for Golden Delicious etc.
Try introducing foods similar to those your child current accepts, if they like apples chopped up, try adding a chopped up pear into the mix. Look for foods, which are of a similar texture, colour and taste to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Try making food part of a game or activity. Cut up a range of foods and use them to create pictures or patterns. This allows the child to become familiar with a range of foods of different textures and consistencies, without the threat of having to eat them.
Over time, as they become more comfortable, invite them to smell, lick (even licking their fingers after handling) or taste a particular item. Encourage them by doing the same, if they decline, try again in a following session, think of a new game to incorporate the food or change the shape its cut into.
Ask them questions relating to the items, how does it feel? What does it smell like? The more comfortable they become in handling food will lead to greater confidence in exploring new foods without the threat and stress of dinner time.
It will take time to establish progress, but by repeating the process you’re building trust and acceptance to different types of foods. The aim isn’t to end up with a child that suddenly eats everything, but if you slowly add one or two more foods, which are (to some degree) accepted, then it’s a success. As you continue, you might see a pattern in the type of foods your child is willing to accept, and find some foods that are easier to introduce than others.
Sometimes though, you will just have to accept that a certain food is a non-starter, we all have things we like and don't like and sometimes never will.
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