#20 - The Surprising Reason Children with Feeding Challenges Prefer Food from Fast Food Restaurants

Apr 16, 2023
#20 - The Surprising Reason Children with Feeding Challenges Prefer Food from Fast Food Restaurants

Hello there! Welcome back to the Food Explorers Podcast episode 20. I just want to say I am so grateful you are here. Sometimes it is still so wild to hear my own voice on here, and so it seems even more wild sometimes that other people tune in to listen to me share about how to make mealtime more magical. But I am so happy you're here, and so grateful for you tuning in. 


Ok, today’s topic is fast food restaurants. Particularly why do many children with feeding challenges prefer to eat at fast food restaurants, but refuse the same food items at home. 


So for example - why will they happily eat a Burger King Burger, but absolutely refuse to eat the one you made them at home? 


love this topic, and honestly I find it fascinating. We’ve all seen the documentaries and commentary on what makes fast food so tasty and addictive. Because of that I’m not going to go into that side too much. Instead, I do want to talk about this from an oral motor and sensory perspective.

When you go to a fast food restaurant, you know that every single time you order you are going to get the same exact food every single time you order.

For example, I can pretty much picture in my head exactly what my chicken nuggets from McDonalds would be. That’s what makes restaurants successful - you go back time and time again and expect to get the same great food you had in the past. 


They spend tons of time, money, and research making sure that no matter what time of day you go, or which specific chain of the restaurant you visit, that chicken nugget is exactly the same every single time. 


This is also why children can be a little more open to some of the frozen chicken nuggets. Overall, they are relatively similar each time you present them.


However, less so than a fast food restaurant. You may cook it a little more or a little less each time. And often chicken nuggets from the freezer section may look a little different or be a different shape. 


Children with feeding challenges and sensory needs love consistency, because they know exactly to expect. It is comforting to know that they are going to have the same exact food they already know they like.


This is definitely not the case with homemade food. When food is made from scratch it is entirely different every time.


For example, if you are forming burger patties by hand, it’s never going to be exactly the same, vs. Burger King where they have equipment and molds that make exact replicas. 


But this isn’t the case at home. For example, every single time you cook chicken tenders, you may bread it a little more, a little less, the sizing of them might be different. This is not as comforting for children. They never know what they are going to get each day. Maybe one day it’s too cooked, another day not enough, one day just right, and yet another day they may have a weird bite.


The brain doesn’t enjoy sensory surprises, we like to know what we’re going to get and know that it feels good and safe for our body.

This is also part of the reason children LOVE snacky foods like poptarts, chips, and cookies. The food that comes from packages is very predictable and reliable.


Ok, so that’s reason number 1. 


Reason #2:


Depending on the fast food place, it can be easier for oral motor skills. So one of the reason SO many kids love chicken nuggets is because they are made up of ground meat. When a meat is ground, your oral motor skills don’t need to work as hard. Oral motor skills are the skills are the strength, coordination and endurance of the muscles in the lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw, oral cavity. So a good example of this is to think of a whole piece of chicken breast - imagine how much force and chewing you would need to do to eat it. Now think of a meatball. How much force and chewing would you need with that one?


Usually it’s less, because it’s already ground up, so many of the fibers in the meat are broken down for you. For some reason, many of the fast food restaurants tend to have softer and easier forms of meat. 


For example, the Burger King burgers are relatively thin. The Mcdonald chicken nuggets are more ground up than the ones from a package. The bacon from Dunkin' Donuts is thinner and crispier. 


So many children with feeding challenges prefer this simply because it is easier for them to eat. 


So how can you start to move away from only eating at fast food restaurants?  I like to break this into several steps.


  1. Eat at a variety of fast food restaurants: So if you only ever eat at one fast food restaurant and your child only eats one food from there, they begin to get very brand specific. We want to promote flexibility and variety with food. So even eating chicken nuggets at all the different restaurants can help with this.

  2. From there, try frozen varieties of these foods, or packaged varieties. Remember, packages brands work really hard to try and make their food consistent. So it will be kind of similar to the fast food restaurants.

  3. When you start to try and make your own at home, try to replicate how these look and feel at their favorite restaurants. For example, if you notice the burger is thin and crispy at Burger King, work to make yours thinner than you normally would. At home, try using ground chicken to make chicken nuggets instead of whole piece of chicken breast.


Keep at it. It’s really tempting to give up when you try and your child refuses or doesn’t like what you offered them. But remember, learning to eat is a lifelong process. It doesn’t usually happen overnight, or only offering a couple times. You child needs time to become comfortable with the new options.


Which fast food restaurant is your child’s favorite? Head on over to @DrSamGoldman on Instagram and let me know. 


If you are having a difficult time encouraging your child to eat proteins at home, you may want to check out my membership community for parents - the Food Explorers Membership.


This month we are talking all about protein, and exploring it together.


Head over to drsamgoldman.com/food-explorers-membership to check it out. I’ll see you there!



***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.

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