Why Is Chewing Food A Problem In Toddlers?
Created by Puja Sharma Vasisht Updated on Dec 18, 2018
One of the biggest meal time challenges you might face with your toddler is that she doesn't chew the food. She might refuse to chew, keeping the food as it is in her mouth for what can seem like hours! A power struggle ensues between the two of you, and in an attempt to get her to eat, you force her. She, in turn, wants to get done with the ordeal and swallows the food. The result is the food is not digested properly and she throws up entire meal, or, well, just passes it out as stool without being digested. Either way, it isn't healthy for your child. Read on to find out more about toddlers and chewing, and what you can do to help.
At What Age Do Children Start Chewing Food?
Like any other new skill, chewing depends on other experiences and skills that your baby has picked up in the previous months.
- Chewing may start around 6-9 months. This time period is a critical window of opportunity to start with the introduction of textured food (pureed, lumpy foods)
- Feels like your baby is putting everything in her mouth? Great. Use this opportunity to give her different textures and types of food, so she can effectively use the jaws, tongue and cheeks
- Late introduction of textured food may lead to problems in chewing for your toddler. By 10 months your baby should be given mashed foods to encourage chewing
Why Is Chewing Food Such A Problem In Toddlers?
Here are some common reasons why chewing turns into a problem with toddlers.
Late introduction of solids: A possible reason is the late introduction of solids (later than 6-8 months), in your baby's diet.
- In such a case, optimal development of motor skills such as chewing could be delayed
- Your baby can have trouble accepting a new texture, which is solids/semi-solids in place of the preferred texture, which is liquid milk
- Late introduction of lumpy foods: Again, a baby who has not been introduced to lumpy foods (like khichri, porridge) by 8-10 months (when she starts to sit by herself) will have a problem in chewing foods later (at 14-15 months of age)
Disinterest in food: Another reason for not chewing in toddlers could be simple disinterest in the food.
- This could be because of lack of variety in terms of taste, texture, or flavor
- If a toddler is given same food (rice/chapatti/any other staple) every day for all three meals, she may be bored and refuse to chew the food
What Can I Do To Make My Toddler Chew Food Rather Than Swallow It?
Here are some tips you can follow to help your toddler chew her food.
Gradual introduction of food with lumps: Introduce foods with lumps very slowly to your baby. You can use a baby food mill/hand blender to create a very soft, gentle texture that can be mixed with a thicker puree
- You can give your toddler the familiar pureed food (blended khichri, dalia, upma) and then offer a small spoonful of the textured food (spoon mashed or hand mashed foods), mixed in with the familiar puree. Then offer a spoonful of the pureed food
- Gradually, you can offer several spoons of the textured food and follow it with several spoons of pureed food. As your baby becomes accustomed to the new texture, she will be able to eat just the textured foods
- Introduce new foods to your baby after offering enough of a familiar food or texture when she is not extremely hungry
- Move slowly as you increase the texture and the challenge for your baby. Let your baby guide you. If she has difficulty with the amount of lumpiness or the size of the pieces in the food, go back to an easier food mixture that she handled successfully earlier
- When she is doing well with the food you have served, begin to make the pieces of food bigger or include several different types of pieces in the textured-food meal
- You can gradually introduce solid foods in the diet, by giving one or two bites of it. Serve little food on her plate. You can offer your child finger foods like fruit slices, carrot sticks, a bit of a chapatti or whatever she usually eats, to chew on
- Family meal times: Try and make your child have meals with the family. You can make your child sit in a comfortable chair along with other family members for the meal times. This would encourage her to start with chewing solids. Show her that everyone is chewing the food
- Learning by imitation: Children also follow each other. Seeing other children eat solid food would also encourage her to chew. You may sometimes invite over some neighbors, friends or cousins of the same age group to encourage your child
- Space meals out properly: Keep appropriate gap to ensure hunger, at least 3-4 hours, between meals. Allocate fixed time for meals. Your child should finish her main meals in 20-25 minutes and for snacks give 10-15 minutes' time to finish. If your child takes longer than that remove the plate. Over a period of time, your child would start finishing her meals on time
What To Do When Your Toddler Gets Bored Of Eating Same Stuff?
Now, your toddler could be losing interest or may be bored of eating the same type of food. So, they tend to keep the food in the mouth instead of chewing it. In that case, you may try the following tips.
- Present food in an attractive way (add different colored vegetables, cut/cook in different fun shapes, etc.)
- Try to cook the foods s/he dislikes in different ways to make them interesting
- Try changing texture of the food which your child doesn't fancy
- Offer finger foods like boiled carrot sticks once in a day; lay an attractive platter and allow your child to eat. Let her/him mess around. Toddlers sometimes like to be in control
- Eat the same food (that s/he dislikes) with him/her. Look interested and praise the food. Toddlers like to follow their parents. If s/he still refuses the same food, avoid offering them to her/him for a few days, and then try again by cooking in a different way
Is There A Link Between Food Texture And Chewing?
When introducing new textures of food, make sure it's done slowly. Otherwise, babies usually gag because they don't have the maturity to handle it yet.
How Can I Make My Toddler Chew Chapatti?
Chapatti very often becomes the food - the toddler just does not want to chew. Chapatti happens to be a dry food and requires considerably more time of chewing than rice does.
- So, start with foods like rice and porridge, that your child can eat with spoon initially, as it is easier
- Once she starts to eat these foods then you can offer chapattis in roll form or small bites
- You should always give chapatti dipped and mashed in some gravy/dal/curd. This would help in making chapatti easier to chew
- You can always make differently shaped chapattis like star, heart, triangle to make it more visually interesting. Similarly, it can be made green with spinach, or orange with carrot or red with beetroot
- Keep it interesting for your toddler!
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