Food pouches – What a convenience for a busy family to have a quick, easy, and nutritious food option for their little one! Plus, our little ones can often independently eat a pouch, and with very little mess. As a feeding therapist, I have been told time and time again how food pouches are lifesavers for many families!
It is understandable how handy these are when “on the go” – in the car, in the stroller, in a waiting room, etc. There is a time and a place that make these an invaluable food option. However, it is best if pouches are only used when necessary, in order to allow for the development of these feeding skills your child isn’t getting from the pouches:
- Sensory: Learning to eat foods includes involving your sense of touch, taste, sight, and smell. If a toddler is sucking puree from a pouch, they are not doing a lot of touching, seeing, or smelling the food. In fact, the tasting they are doing is bypassing taste buds on the tip of the tongue due to the nature of sucking from the pouch. Thus, their sensory experience will be limited. Opportunities to touch (feel texture), taste (utilizing all taste buds), see (color, shape, size), and smell all play an important part in feeding development.
- Self-Feeding: Part of feeding development is babies learning to feed themselves. This means your child will require practice using a spoon to scoop food from a bowl, or using a fork to stab food on a plate. Taking food from a spoon or fork is a much different process than sucking it out of a pouch from an oral-motor perspective.
- Learning to chew: Smooth purees from a pouch do not need to be chewed. As your child gets older, we expect to see the ability to break down foods in order to safely offer foods like meat or raw veggies. We also expect children to learn to enjoy a variety of tastes and textures so that they are eating what the rest of the family is eating at mealtime. Giving opportunities for various textures during the day is a great way to work toward your child developing a more mature chew and appreciation of tastes and textures.
- Knowledge of food: In order for kids to grow up and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet of foods across food groups, it is important for them to understand what a food is called and what it looks like. It is also important to know how a food tastes in various preparations (e.g. raw, cooked) and how it is prepared. If your child’s favorite pouch has carrots in it, this does not translate to “your child likes eating carrots”. Experiencing food in a variety of ways is an important part of feeding development.
- Mealtime Culture: Pouches can contribute to an “eating on the run” culture. A pouch should be considered a “snack” and not a meal. Ideally, a meal will have a variety of flavors and textures. Sitting as a family to enjoy a meal is an important time of engagement and connection with families. Mealtime with the family is a great time for your child to observe others eating, adding a nice layer to the sensory experience.
Giving your child an occasional pouch when you are out grocery shopping or driving in traffic seems reasonable. When you’re at home, it is time well spent to provide real, whole foods to your child to be explored, smelled, licked, touched, chewed, and eaten. Remember that learning to eat food is a process that takes practice. With a spoon. In a bowl.
Need a few ideas to work with your child on accepting food experiences that aren’t from a pouch? Try these:
- Squirt food from the pouch onto a spoon and feed your child this way.
- Squirt the pouch into a bowl and have your child practice eating with utensils. You can both have spoons in your hands.
- Sensory food experiences such as finger painting with purees or pushing toy cars through purees (on a cookie sheet).