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How to raise a child who loves food

2. Consider the sensory component of food

How to raise a child who loves food

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I understand more than anyone that the term picky eater can mean two, totally different things to two different moms.

There are children with legitimate feeding disorders that severely restricts food intake by mouth, and then there are children who fall into the typical picky toddler phase, somewhere around the age of 2-3 years old.

Because this is a normal phase, I know there are plenty of moms and dads out there who struggle everyday just trying to get a nutritious meal into their toddler.

I know, because I have been there too.

The food struggles, the coercion, the counting of the bites, the advice from your pediatrician that resounds in your head about how your toddler should be eating “five servings of vegetables a day" when you're just asking/begging them to eat one measly serving.

It is overwhelming. It is confusing. It is sometimes infuriating.

Thankfully, I finally feel a sense of peace over mealtime in our house and my kids have come a long way too. No, they don't eat everything that is put before them, and that's okay with me. Because they have their own mind and own preferences and I know I am doing my job to present them with healthy choices.

Here are some easy ways to help your child learn to love food:

1. Give them experiences early on

Lack of exposure to different tastes and textures within the first year of life can cause picky eating habits. Children only need to be fed pureed foods for a few weeks (if at all). If a child is fed pureed foods or bland rice cereal for too long, this might cause them to reject other food textures and anything with flavor.

During the first year of life, exposure to a large variety of food tastes and textures is crucial for future food acceptance. For textures, think finely chopped, fork mashed, soft table foods, meltable solids (crackers), crispy foods, mixed textures (more than one food texture mixed together), difficulty chewy foods.

For flavors, think spicy, sweet, bland, savory, sour, creamy, etc.

By being exposed to a wide variety of textures within the first year of life, the 1-year-old will also have built the motor components necessary for chewing.

2. Consider the sensory component of food

Even as grown adults, we are aware of the sensory component of different foods. Some children (and some adults) have a harder time accepting certain textures. I know a few adults who still can't handle the feeling of squishing a cherry tomato in their mouth. Some people I know can't stand spicy foods, while others fully embrace them.

Just like adults, children have different preferences and different levels of sensitivity to food textures, tastes and smells. The olfactory (smell) component of food is closely linked to food acceptance—if a child likes the way a food smells, they are more likely to try a bite.

I always recommend having fun in the spice cabinet with little ones. Pop open the top and have them see what types of smells they prefer and which ones they don't like.

Some children are more sensitive within their mouths, making some textures intolerable. As far as textures go, typically mushy textures or mixed textures (two or more textures together i.e. yogurt with fruit) are harder for children who are hypersensitive in the oral cavity, so try sticking to one texture at a time.

3. Be aware of their anxieties + fears of the unknown

If you have a toddler, you have probably learned by now that kids don't like surprises. With food, toddlers like to know what to expect in terms of what the food is, how it will taste and what it will feel like in their mouth.

So before jumping to conclusions and thinking your child just doesn't like certain foods that you have presented, entertain the idea that perhaps they are just a little scared because they don't know what to expect.

Try explaining the taste and texture a bit before asking them to try a bit. Food descriptors work wonders for fearful eaters.

4. Consider how you react or interact with food

The way in which the immediate caregiver (usually mom) interacts with food and mealtime is highly correlated with child food acceptance, plain and simple.

If you're relaxed and happy they will be too. If you are anxious, controlling, picky, depressed or maybe don't sit down and show enjoyment of meals with your child, that is going to directly impact the way in which they accept new foods.

Do your best to make mealtime fun, interactive and peaceful.

5. Limit exposure to snack + junk food

Kids who are constantly offered juice, cheerios and popcorn and other "packaged" snacks before mealtime are way less likely to eat their homecooked dinner.

Instead, offer vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and proteins for snack instead. Increased exposure to vegetables will only lead to more acceptance of vegetables but increased exposure to processed foods could potentially jeopardize their acceptance.

A great criteria for a healthy kid snack would be to include two or three of these choices: a veggie, a fruit, a healthy fat and a protein. Always offer water before meals and not juice, which can fill up little tummies.


14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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