Toddlers With Problems Eating Due to Texture

cute child drinking a green smoothie
A well-balanced diet usually involves many different textures of food.thies (Image: red_pepper82/iStock/Getty Images)

Most toddlers are picky eaters, at least at some point in their development. It's normal for toddlers to resist new foods and to prefer foods of certain textures, although the type of food your toddler likes may change from day to day. As long as your toddler is eating a variety of foods over the course of a week, he is probably healthy. However, some toddlers are especially sensitive to textures and smells in food. If your toddler's sensitivity to food texture is preventing him from enjoying a balanced diet and is causing problems with growth or weight gain, he might have an oversensitivity related to food texture.

Causes

Most people, especially toddlers, have different levels of sensitivity to sensory input. One child might be frightened to tears by a loud noise that another child doesn't even notice. One child might happily eat a wide variety of food, while another has to be exposed to a new food many times before he will try eating it. Pickiness in eating is only a problem if it interferes with your toddler's ability to eat a healthy diet. If your toddler consistently refuses all food except liquid or very-smooth baby food, he may have oversensitivity to texture.

Oversensitivity to oral-sensory input is a common trait for children with other diagnoses such as attention-deficit disorder. When sensory sensitivity exists independent of other developmental delays, it is often diagnosed as sensory-processing disorder.

Considerations

A toddler who is unwilling to eat food of different textures may not eat enough to maintain a balanced diet and meet all his nutritional needs. This can lead to problems with growth and weight gain and even failure to thrive. If your child is small or on a low percentile on the growth chart for his age, this is not a concern in itself, especially if both his parents are also smaller than average. However, if his growth pattern drops to a much lower percentile over time, this is a concern. For example, if he was always in the 20th percentile for weight on growth charts as an infant, but he drops to the 10th percentile after starting textured food, then his growth may be a concern.

Treatment

Treatment for oral sensitivity is best undertaken with the supervision of an occupational therapist. However, you can help your texture-averse toddler learn to enjoy new foods with many simple activities at home. Encourage your toddler to play with new food even if he's not willing to eat it at first. If he prefers smooth textures, then try grinding up new foods to get him used to new tastes first. Use distractions, such as songs and stories, during meals to help him enjoy family meals and pay less attention to what he's eating. Encourage him to try one bite of a new food, and give him choices about what new food to try. Allow him to use his favorite seasonings as much as he wants, especially on new foods. Avoid offering a meal that's all new food: always include at least one food that you know your child likes, but offer the new food first when he's hungry and might be more willing to try it.

Prognosis

Most toddlers outgrow their resistance to different textures of food. If your child is only a mildly-picky eater but is able to eat a balanced diet overall, then he will probably grow to like a wider variety of foods as long as you continue to offer them. If he has oral sensitivities, he may need additional help such as therapy to overcome his textile sensitivity.

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