Entries in Sensory Sensitivity (9)


Healthy Food Projects

Want to engage your children in the experience of new foods? Set their imaginations on fire?

1. Choose five fruits and five vegetables and organize them by their colors: red, green, yellow and blue.

2. Create your own edible fruit bouquet by piercing fruit slices on skewars and using half a cabbage as a base to stick the skewers in.

3. At the grocery store, see how many healthy foods start with each letter of the alphabet.

4. Make an animal out of an apple or pear with toothpicks, berries and walnuts.

5. String a necklace or bracelet with yarn and different shapes of noodles. (Paint them if you wish.)

6. Decorate an old hat with vegetables using glue sticks, and call it your "imagination hat." Then share a story with friends.

7. Plant some herb seeds in a cup of soil, water them, and watch the seedings grow.

8. Build a veggie-monster on a paper plate with toothpicks holding the pieces together.

9. Count how many oranges are in each bag at the grocery store. Then count the bags. How many oranges do you think there are all together?

10. Carve your own stamp into half a potato or jicama, dip it in paint, and press it down on paper for a special design.

I wish I could take credit for these ideas, but I can't. 

They come from the terrific book Healthy Foods from A to Z, Comida sana de la A a la Z.  Not only will this book teach your kids about fruits and vegetables, it will also teach them Spanish!!! Check it out.

Remember, games, cooking, gardening and other ways of exposing kids to foods are like earrings...they're accessories.

Accessories don't do much on their own, but they can make an outfit rock.

Games, gardening, cooking, and crafts all work best when you add them onto a solid feeding structure—Read House Building 101.

If you've got a kid who will cook but who won't eat, you know what I mean.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Kid Eats Q&A: Is Picky Eating Contagious for Siblings?

How do you make sure that your picky eater's eating pattern doesn't rub off on siblings?

Got more than one kid? Changes are you've got a "good" eater and a "not-so-good" eater.  

And you know how sibilings are: Sometimes they want to differentiate themselves; sometimes they want to be the same.  Either way, siblings are always influencing each other.  (And when it comes to making YOUR life more difficult, siblings are always a team.)

That's why I was thrilled to get this question from Lily.  Lily has 2 children, ages 4 and 18-months.  Lily says the 4 year old is pretty picky.  The 18-month old?  Not picky...yet.  But she's picking up the vibe.  "Yuk."  "Eww" "Gross."

Lily writes:

How do we allow one child the freedom to express how she feels about certain foods without setting up the younger child to have the same negative thoughts about those foods? The younger child is starting to become very particular herself. I'm not sure if she is picking up those signals from the older child or if she happens to feel the same way.

The answer is, forget about the food and forget about free expression!  Here are 3 lessons I recommend you teach your kids instead.

1) Be Polite

Parents are inclined to give their picky eaters a pass on what they say about food, but I say, Don't Do It.

Opinions?  Fine.  Outbursts?  Not fine.  A simple, "No thanks," will do.

Being polite at the table isn't just considerate to the chef, it's courteous to other diners.

"I'm sure you didn't mean to hurt my feelings but I worked hard on cooking this. If you don't want to eat it you don't have to, but let's be polite.  And remember, other people at the table are enjoying their food. Let's not make them feel bad about eating it."

Learning this lesson won't just help innoculate younger kids against the contagion effect, it'll help ensure your kids get invited to eat with others when they're older. Manners matter.

2) Difference Rocks

This isn't a food focused lesson; it's a life lesson. We look different. We have different ideas. We wear different clothes, enjoy different sports, and yes, eat different foods.

Point out food preferences that no one can feel bad about: "I like chocolate ice cream. You like vanilla." 

Empowering difference empowers kids.

3) This is Just a Stage.

 "You just have not tasted it enough times yet" is a great way to frame food preferences for young children.

"I didn't like rice when I was young. Now I love it. That's why it's important to keep tasting."

Encourage pea-sized samplings of everything, and instead of asking for a thumbs up or a thumbs down review, ask your children to compare different foods: 

  • "Is this chicken as spicy as the chicken we had last week?" 
  • "Do you think this apple is as crunchy as the pear?"
  • "Does this smell like your dad's old sneakers or the flowers in the garden?" 

It doesn't even matter what the questions are. The goal is to engage your children's curiosity (and train them for scientific inquiry).  If tasting is too much, engage the other senses first.

Read Nix the NegativityUnleash Your Toddler's Inner Food Critic! and Teach Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem with Sensory Education.

Finally, don't take your kids' likes and dislikes too seriously.

Don't be held hostage by your kids' taste buds (or their assessment of their own taste buds).  

As long as you provide something at every meal that you can reasonably expect your kids to eat (i.e. they happily ate it two days ago) feel free to cook what you want to cook. It's not selfish. It's the only way you can give your children the time they need to roll the idea of eating something new around in their minds.  Read Let Your Kids Sit with Their Own Struggles.

Remember, kids don't have stable taste preferences.  They don't always know what they like. What they do know is what they're willing to eat. And you can shape that...not by focusing on food, but by focusing on habits.

Read What "I don't like it" Really Means and The Easy Way to Solve Your Toddler's Decision to Suddenly Refuse Certain Foods.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Could Sluggish Taste Buds Cause Childhood Obesity?

Are dull taste buds to blame for childhood obesity?

I've written a lot about how important it is to expose your kids to a wide variety of flavors.  It's why I recommend The Rotation Rule so strenuously. (Don't serve the same food two days in a row.)

Now, researchers in Germany are making the same argument for a different reason: It might reduce your child's chances of becoming obese.

A small German study recently discovered that obese children have a weaker sense of taste than normal-weight children.

When you can't taste things well you eat more?  Makes sense since kids who have super, extraordinary, powerful tastebuds often eat less.

What's the solution?  German researcher Dr. Overberg concludes:

"We think it's important, especially for young children, to get different tastes so that they can improve their taste sensitivity."

Continuing, Dr. Oberberg says:

"If you taste more and different things at younger ages, you can do this [improve taste sensitivity]."

More tastes.  And different tastes.

Most parents inadvertently teach their kids to enjoy the same flavors over and over.

It's not your fault. If you follow the American eating "plan" for kids you'll feed your kids a sweet and salty diet. Read Are "Child-Friendly" Foods Really Gateway Drugs?

It's one of my main arguments against juice: Giving your kids on a regular basis trains (and trains again) your kids' taste buds to enjoy the flavor they already love —sweet.  Read Training Tiny Taste Buds

In this study children were asked to taste strips of paper inflused with sweet, sour, salty, savory and bitter flavors.

  • Obese kids scored an average of 12.6 out of a possible 20.
  • Normal-weight kids scored an average of 14.1.

Doesn't sounds like a big difference in dull, but the results were statistically significantly different.

Then the children were asked to rate the taste's intensity on a five-point scale.

The obese children rated all flavor concentrations lower than the normal-weight group.

Read The New York Times article.

Exposing children to different flavors isn't as hard as it seems.  Here are 4 things you can do today:

  • Jettison the idea that learning to appreciate different flavors is the same as eating foods with different flavors.  Let your kids taste; don't expect them to eat. Read Why Some Kids Should Spit.
  • Always look at food from your children's perspective: By looking at taste and texture.  Then vary what familiar foods you serve, so you vary taste and texture as much as possible. Read Pizza, Pizza, Pizza.
  • Instead of asking, "Do you like it?" ask your children something more provocative: "Is it as sweet as the chicken you ate yesterday?" Don't be afraid to be silly: "Does it smell like your dad's sweaty sneakers?" For a list of questions read Nix the Negativity.
  • Focus on sensory education. Read Teach Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem with Sensory Education

There's no guarantee that improving your children's taste buds will solve an overeating problem.

But it can't hurt!

Overeaters need to learn a host of skills for a lifetime of healthy eating. (Read Helping Kids Who Overeat.) Sensory education is a good place to start.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~