#07 - Fruit: Why It Can Be Hard for Kids with Feeding Challenges, and What You Can Do to Help

Jan 29, 2023
#07 - Fruit: Why It Can Be Hard for Kids with Feeding Challenges, and What You Can Do to Help

Welcome back Food Explorers.You probably just think of your child as a Food Explorer, but we need you as the parent to be one too, and to set the example for this all to work! 


In the Food Explorers world this month, we’re talking all about fruit. This includes the Food Explorers Membership as well - all the resources (the quick tips guide, the grocery lists, the recipe, and the food exploration activity are all geared towards encouraging exploration of fruits.


If you are like most of the parents I work with, you are BERRY concerned about your child eating fruit. Yup, pun intended - berry concerned.


Something really interesting is that in my personal experience, some children with feeding challenges do pretty well with fruit due to its sweet flavor. I’ll have parents come to me and say, you know they really struggle with proteins and veggies, but they’ll eat almost any fruit.


On the other side of the spectrum, we have parents who are struggling to help their child eat more than just 1-2 fruits. And they worry that because this is the only fruit they’ll eat, they’ll burn out of it eventually. Which I consider a pretty valid concern. We all get bored of eating the same food over and over. Other parents WISH their child would eat 1-2 fruits, because their child refuses to eat any fruit at all.


Some of you may have heard me talk about this in the past, but that’s my husband. He does NOT eat fruits (although we have made some progress here - he’s an adult, so I respect his autonomy to not want to work on this - as hard as it is for me). But many of the characteristics we will talk about in this episode overwhelm him and his body. J.R. has so graciously agreed to come onto the podcast next week and talk to you about this, what it feels like in his body so you can really understand it from the viewpoint of someone going through it. Of what your child might be experiencing in their own body.


For today’s episode, I want to delve deep into the core of these fruits. Talk about all the different kind of fruits, the components that make them, the different sensory characteristics you need to consider, and what my favorite ways are for making introducing fruit easier. 


So let’s get fruity! 


The first thing I want you to start thinking about is - how many different types of fruits there really are.


We all know about our apples, pears, and bananas. But there are so many other fruit you and your child may never have even tried. Like starfruit, dragonfruit, or lychee. One of my favorite things to do is to go to the grocery store or farmers market and see if I can find one I’ve never tried before. I know, that sounds really weird, but I love finding new foods and new produce, especially ones from different countries - because variety is refreshing and keeps food interesting - which can help prevent that food burnout and dropping of safe foods.


But let’s not forget - there’s also variety within each fruit.


There’s different types of apples, different types of pears, and even different types of bananas. So even if your child is only eating one type of fruit right now, you can start creating variety there. One day you have a green apple, the next a yellow, the next a fiji and then a red. It keeps it interesting because these all taste, and even feel just a tiny bit different. I know you really want a variety of the types of fruits, but depending on your child you might need to start within one type of fruit first, and increase that acceptance of flexibility with food.


The reason I want you to consider all the different types of fruit, is because there are really so many options for you and your child to choose from.


You may have chosen a fruit that you really want your child to eat, but it may not be the best fit for them - YET.


For example, if you really want to work on bananas, but your child is really sensitive to smells, especially that of a banana, it might not be the food to work on right now. As we go through this post, I want you to listen to the different points and consider components or characteristics might be hard for your child, and which ones aren’t. This can guide you to choosing the best fruit to work on with them next.


Next, let’s break down those different components of fruits:


First: We have the flesh.

This is the the softer inside part of the fruit. The texture of this differs for each fruit. So for example - the soft and mushy flesh of a banana is totally different from the flesh of an apple, which is totally different from the slippery texture of a grape. Depending on your child, they may do better with one texture vs another.


Second: We have the peel.

The majority of fruits have a peel. If not all. I actually tried to look up if ALL fruits technically have an outer layer or peel, but I couldn’t find a distinct answer. But for all the fruits I can personally think of - they have some kind of outer skins that differs from the flesh of the fruit. Some of this skin & peels you eat, while other’s you don’t. For example, we don’t eat that outer layer of the pineapple. 


For the peel or skin you do eat, that can be challenging. The peel and the inside flesh are usually two different tastes, two different textures, and two different looks. Which means your brain needs to work harder to decipher and pay attention to them. 


The third component is the seeds:

Most fruits also have seeds. And I don’t know about you, but I wasn't not the biggest fan of seeds growing up. This caused me to avoid strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries for this reason. Honestly, I’m still not so sure about them. Seeds add a third, different texture. Many children with feeding difficulties struggle here especially - it’s a random crunch or surprise they weren’t expecting, or even if they were expecting it, it might feel funny in their mouth - because they’re not easily chewable.

And fourth, we have the juice.

Most fruits let out a juice when you chew them. Again, this may surprise children with feeding challenges. And combined with the flesh, the peel, and the seeds, that’s a lot to handle and decipher in their mouth. Aside from the sensory characteristics, which we’ll talk about next, each one of these requires different oral motor skills and movements to chew and swallow.


So as you can see, just from the components of a fruit, there is a lot going on that can make it challenging to eat.


Let’s move on to the sensory characteristics of fruit. When I say sensory characteristics I’m not just talking about the texture. I’m also thinking about the look, the smell, the taste, etc.


Because all fruits are so different, so are their sensory characteristics. But depending on your child’s sensory system, they may do better with some characteristics vs another.


First the look: We want to take into account the colors, the shapes, the ripeness, and the overall look of a food. Does it look appetizing to your child? Does it look like something they’ve had before? Do they recognize it at all? 


The smell: Does it have a big or a small smell? How does your child process smells?


The taste: Is it sweet? Is it bitter? Is it taste they’ve had before?


The touch: What texture is it? Is it sticky? Is it wet? Does it leave a residue in their mouth or hands?


I could talk about sensory characteristics all day - that’s what we do in my Making Sense of Eating course, but for times sake we’ll keep going.


For all the reason we discussed Fruit can be challenging. It’s may not be that your child is just refusing to eat - one of the things. My goal in this post was to shed light on that, and open your mind to what may be going on inside their mind when they’re facing a new fruit.


The part you are all probably here for - the tips.

  1. The thing I find that makes the biggest impact for me, is when I write down all the foods a child eats and avoids, and really study them. Determine whether there is common textures, common flavors, or common looks. From this, I can better determine what to try next.
  2. Freeze-dried fruit: This is one of my favorites. Freeze dried fruits are fruits that have essentially been dehydrated to a certain temperature. Instead of being chewy like dried fruit, they are more crunchy or meltable, depending on which one you get. So this kind of takes away the juice, and the difference in textures we talked about before. It is usually a much more consistent texture overall, and generally many kids seem to like this crunchier texture.
  3. Frozen fruits: Depending on your child’s oral motor skills, they may be able to eat some frozen fruits, or thawed frozen fruits. What’s awesome about frozen fruits is that they are frozen pretty quickly after picking, so you don’t usually have as big of a variety between them - for example with blueberries, they are all more similar than when you buy a carton and have one mushy, one tough, one sweet, one tart. They also usually have less juice when frozen, which is easier for some children. Again, this depends on your child & their oral motor skills, and their age as this can be a choking hazard.
  4. Introduce it in a recipe or fun food - Sometimes introducing a food in a different way can be helpful for kids. So for example, introducing blueberries in frozen blueberry waffles may be easier for them than a fresh berry. Or try making popsicles, smoothies, or even juices with fruit. This changes the texture of a fruit to more of a pureed or even liquid version, which may be easier for them to handle initially. Remember - this doesn’t mean we’re giving up on whole fruit, it’s just helping them get used to it while they learn. 
  5. And last but not least, because to be honest if I could only pick one this is the one I would recommend you start today, is helping your child learn about fruits away from the table. Children aren’t born knowing all about fruits. They can’t pick them all out in the store, tell you what flavors a ripe vs unripe one will have, or even know what it will feel and taste like until they try it. And this can be overwhelming for them. We just put a food on the plate and expect them to eat it? How would you feel if someone gave you a totally new food and didn’t explain to you what it is, how to eat it, or what it tastes like? If you’re like me, you’d be hesitant. So helping you child learn about it can drastically help them feel more confident when it arrives on their plate.

    So I really recommend going to the bookstore or library and checking out some food books, looking up some age-appropriate Youtube videos created by licensed dieticians (and that’s an RD btw, different from a nutritionist), or finding good TV shows that educate about he different foods.

    For older kids, I also love talking about why certain foods or fruits are good for your body. For example - which ones help your eyes and which ones help keep you from getting sick. Think about it - we just tell kids that fruit is healthy, but that doesn’t really mean much to them. That’s part of the reason I really dislike using the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy”. It’s a really confusing concept. What they hear is: "I can’t have cookie a lot, only a special days, because apparently it’s unhealthy. But special things are fun, so I want another cookie." Which is kind of the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. Instead, it can be helpful to teach kids the very basics of how different foods support our body, in an age-appropriate way that will actually mean something to them. I'll be sharing some of my favorite books on Instagram this week!

And that rounds out this discussion on fruits. And don’t forget, if you liked this episode, please leave me a little review on the podcast and let me know! And if you’re ready to squeeze the day and start exploring fruits with your child, come join us in the Food Explorers Membership! This month is entirely focused on fruits, and I will actually walk you step-by-step on how to explore honeydew melon with your child! 

Go to my Instagram @DrSamGoldman and click the link in my bio to get started.

I’ll see you back here next week, when we bring in J.R. to share all about his challenges with fruits. I can promise, it’s going to be a good one. Bye for now!



***This post/podcast is not sponsored. The opinions and content of this blog are unique to the writer unless otherwise stated. No compensation is received for the links shared.

Disclaimers: The information provided by OT 4 ME (“we,” “us” or “our”) on theot4me.com (the “Site”) is for general informational purposes only. The Site cannot and does not contain medical advice. Any medical information is provided as my/our personal experiences is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical advice.


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