Texture, or more accurately, the way toddlers respond to texture, is one of the potential pitfalls parents face when transitioning infants to solids.
But avoiding texture is the wrong way to go.
In my last post I discussed how the French have an advantage in the vegetable department because they introduce their infants to a wide range of vegetables from a very early age.
The French strategy—both introducing lots of different vegetables and switching up which vegetables are offered from day-to-day—exposes infants to a wide range of flavors. Read Early Vegetable Variety: The French Advantage.
But the French strategy does more: It also exposes infants to a wide range of textures.
Variety—in both taste and texture— isn’t just the spice of life; it’s the key to teaching your tots to eat right.
The more varied textures you expose your infants to the better they’ll eat.
Taste and texture have a symbiotic relationship.
- Flavor variety leads to texture acceptance.
- Texture variety leads to flavor acceptance.
Think of taste and texture like a food relay race: You need to optimize both racers in order to get to the finish line fast.
Make it your goal to vary the taste and texture of the food you provide as often as you can—both from day-to-day and over the course of a single day.
Here’s the study:
- Take a bunch of 12-month-old babies.
- Cook up some carrots so they’re nice and soft.
- Puree some of the carrots.
- Chop some of the carrots.
- Dish up the carrots (pureed on one day, chopped on another).
- See who eats what.
- Figure out why.
Some of what the researchers discovered was pretty obvious:
- All the babies ate more carrots when they were pureed than when they were chopped.
- Babies who had more teeth were more willing to eat the chopped carrots.
These findings fall under the category of, “We needed researchers to tell us that?”
Some of what the researchers discovered wasn’t so obvious.
Look at who consumed more of the chopped carrots:
- Infants who were accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods.
- Children who started early with mashed foods, and who had frequent exposures to chopped versions of different foods.
- Children whose main meal on the day of the study was either chopped or lumpy, as opposed to pureed.
The researchers concluded: The more familiar infants are with different textures, especially with chopped foods, the more likely they are to eat (and like) chopped carrots.
The researchers also concluded that:
“Infants with more experiences with different textures seem to be more confident in handling more complex textures and are less likely to reject these foods.”
Many parents are reluctant to give their infants chopped foods because they worry about their children choking.
And that’s a reasonable concern. You don’t have to compromise your feeding goals, however, to keep your kids alive. You can serve mashed, chopped and lumpy foods safely.
In this study, the researchers thoroughly cooked both the pureed and the chopped carrots, and the chopped pieces were about ¼ inch in size. This complies with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that to prevent choking parents leave bites no bigger than ½ inch in size.
Other parents steer clear of challenging textures because their kids reject them.
But that’s the wrong approach. Repeatedly serving textures infants prefer reinforces their limited palates. It doesn’t move them along.
Even if your child has a physical or development issue which makes tackling textures tough, you still have to introduce a variety of textures. Just see a professional. Read: What can you do about texture issues and My Child Only Eats Cheerios and Puffs: When to Seek Medical Help.
Kids who reject challenging textures need more exposure to them, not less, because they need to learn how to handle textures they find tough.
- Make textural changes slowly. Mix purees with mashes so they’re half and half. Put teeny lumps into sauces.
- Serve small portion sizes so the challenge is doable.
- Deliberately vary the textures you serve. An easy way to do this is to vary the brands you buy (read How Brands Bite You in the Butt!) and vary the kinds of foods you serve (read Falafel for Breakfast).
- If your child is having trouble, make smaller textural changes, but don’t abandon your efforts.
The longer you wait to introduce lumpy, bumpy, and chopped up foods, the harder it becomes.
In another study, children who were introduced to lumpy foods before they were 6 months old:
- Ate a wider variety of foods.
- Moved on to family (or table) food more quickly.
- Were less likely to be considered picky or difficult eaters.
The message is clear: stop babying your babies.
Instead, let them take their lumps. It’s only through exposure to textural variety that your kids will learn to eat a wide variety of foods. And that’s the habit you want to teach your kids for a lifetime of healthy eating.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Blossfield, I., A. Collins, M. Kiely, and C. Delahunty. 2007. “Texture Preferences of 12-Month-Old Infants and the Role of Early Experiences.” Food Quality and Preference 18: 396-404.
Northstone, K., P. Emmett, F. Nethersole, and A. L. S. P. A. C. S. Team. 2001. “The Effect of Age of Introduction to Lumpy Solids on Foods Eaten and Reported Feeding Difficulties At 6 and 15 Months.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 14: 43-54.