Is your child crunchy, squidgy, smooth or rough?

Kim Smith

Kim Smith recently graduated from a master's in food policy and has over 25 years' experience working across the U.K. food industry. Covering a diverse range of roles, she has been a product developer for supermarkets, food service and food manufacturers as well as run farmers markets, food events, judged food awards and most recently taught food education in primary schools. A lifelong lover of food, she is the mother to 2 boys, and now works to improve primary school food education. She does this through her role as Co-Chair and Trustee at TastEd, a leading sensory food education charity, developing a curriculum based primary food education programme and continuing her academic research.

Jess, mum of 8 year old Helena and 6 year old Fred asked us: My kids only seem to like raw veggies, which is healthy but a bit narrow - it's cucumber, red pepper and carrot most days, can you suggest how I can incorporate some veg into hot meals? 

We asked sensory expert Kim Smith to reply....

Firstly, I would say it's fantastic that your children enjoy these fresh, raw veggies and not to worry about incorporating hot vegetables particularly. A few cold veg with a hot meal is totally acceptable to me, if that’s what they enjoy. Secondly, your question makes me wonder whether it’s the texture of cooked and hot veg that your children find challenging.  

Let me explain. In my work at TastEd, where we guide children in exploring fruit and veg using the senses, I have met many children similar in age to your children, who have strong preferences for either hard or soft foods. I would definitely recommend having a gentle chat with your kids about what they like or dislike, but be sure to ask why. Be curious about why they dislike cooked veg. It might be that they just prefer hard, crunchy foods, which is fine once you understand this. 

An approach I use with my own children is to use the senses, as we do in TastEd lessons, as a way to understand everyones’ likes and dislikes. Ask your children what they think a tomato sounds like, or how a carrot feels in their hands. Simply look at a radish and chat about what it reminds you all of. Or if you are serving hot vegetables to the rest of the family, ask them what they think it smells like, get them to try and describe it. 

If your children say they hate something, always ask them why. We rarely give much thought to particular features of food that cause us to reject it. But simply understanding why foods are disliked may give you some clues about your children's preferences, and even help you find foods similar to your children’s favourites they might enjoy.

Try simply talking about texture

Take some time to explore your own texture preferences as a family and chat about why. I am sure you will discover that you all have different likes and dislikes which is totally normal. We are all different. For example, some people hate the juicy inside of big tomatoes in combination with the hard seeds, whilst many adults never learn to enjoy the squashy, slimey texture of aubergine. 

In your discussion, be curious and ask lots of open questions, such as “what does it remind you of?” “What is it similar to?” or “How does it feel to you?” to help the discussion. For example you could ask:

  • Do you prefer the bite of sugar snap peas or the juiciness of tomatoes? Why is that?
  • Do you like hard, crunchy foods like celery or soft quiet foods like plums? Can you describe why?
  • Which is your favourite vegetable to eat and why? 

Conversations like this can help us to understand why a child refuses certain foods. My own son refused raw carrots in his lunchbox, but after having a similar conversation about texture, we discovered he loves softer foods, so we agreed to a pot of cooked carrots at lunchtime instead. And remember, our taste preferences change throughout our lifetime, and I am sure that your children will grow to love other foods as they get older. 

For lots more ideas about using the senses to explore food with children download TastEd’s Parent guide or visit the parent section of our website for videos and activities and more.

About the author

Kim Smith

Kim Smith recently graduated from a master's in food policy and has over 25 years' experience working across the U.K. food industry. Covering a diverse range of roles, she has been a product developer for supermarkets, food service and food manufacturers as well as run farmers markets, food events, judged food awards and most recently taught food education in primary schools. A lifelong lover of food, she is the mother to 2 boys, and now works to improve primary school food education. She does this through her role as Co-Chair and Trustee at TastEd, a leading sensory food education charity, developing a curriculum based primary food education programme and continuing her academic research.

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