My Child Only Eats Packaged Foods!

Posted by

Breanne Haeger, MOT, OTR/L

Time to read

3 minutes

Is your kiddo stuck in the chicken nuggets and Goldfish® cracker cycle? Are you feeling like you want to feed them homemade meals sometimes, but that they only want to eat things out of a package?

First of all, this is so, so common. No one is to blame. There are very real reasons kiddos sometimes feel more comfortable with these foods than others. 

We want to start off explaining the WHY–why your kiddo may feel safer to eat packaged foods. Then we will talk about HOW to expand away from these few packaged foods and make progress towards goal foods. 

So, first, why do they only want to eat packaged foods?

The biggest reason is CONSISTENCY. Packaged foods are consistent in the following ways:

  • Shape
  • Color
  • Flavor (between items, and between meals)
  • Texture
  • Smell
  • Sound (chewing)

Everytime I eat a Goldfish® cracker, it is going to look, taste, feel, sound,and smell the same.

So essentially all of the things that make foods “scary” for some kiddos, are reduced or eliminated when they are offered preferred packaged foods. For your kiddo it might also be refusing new brands of a preferred item, or refusing different colors of the same item (such as rainbow Goldfish® crackers). 

When we offer homemade meals or even produce, there are a lot of inconsistencies. Will Mom put slightly more or less seasonings this time, cook it longer, or even offer a riper vs. less ripe fruit. Things made in nature or at home are less consistent. That makes it harder for these kiddos. 

When thinking about the HOW, how to expand from the packaged foods to your goal foods, we have to think about a “just noticeable difference.” The first step is just a little change.

You might slightly change the:

  • Shape (cutting in half, cookie cutters, eventually different brands)
  • Color
  • Flavor
  • Texture
  • Temperature

To start, just try to pick one thing to change. Let’s use chicken nuggets for this example. You might:

  •  Sprinkle a little seasoning powder on top of their chicken nuggets for a (change of flavor)
  • Cut chicken nuggets in half or quarters (change of visual)
  • Reheat fast food items (change of texture)
  • Offer them cold instead of warm (change of temperature)
  • Pull a bit of the breading off (change of texture/visual)

Here are a few other common examples:

  • Add more milk, less cheese powder, or more butter to mac n’ cheese
  • Create crumbs out of Goldfish® crackers and mix in a small amount of other orange cracker crumbs (with your child watching)
  • Squeeze out a preferred pouch into a bowl, mix with other pouch, and/or add in pieces of fruit

If you continue to make small changes to these preferred foods, you will introduce variety into something that was very consistent. This can help them feel more safe with variety within other foods, increasing their willingness to try and consume homemade foods (which are less consistent). 

As with all things feeding, slow and steady wins the race! Invite curiosity in yourself and your little one and see what works for them! We hope this information was valuable to you! 

If you are concerned about your little one’s feeding patterns, we invite you to schedule a free Occupational Therapy consultation with us!