21 Jul Finally Free from Fruit Fears?
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD
So you may recall my disclosure in a previous blog, sharing that my son is anything
but a fruit lover. He politely refuses whenever offered any – whether it’s the
sweetest, most amazing strawberry, or the crunchiest red apple. When he has tried
the occasional bite, his eyes water, he gags, and just can’t move beyond it. He’s
made it into his teens allowing only raisins, applesauce and an occasional juice into
his otherwise varied nutritional palate. While he enjoyed fruit as an infant and
toddler, something switched when he became a more independent preschooler, and
while I accepted that there must be a lesson of humor and irony for me as his
nutritionist-mom, I inwardly believed that he would just shift out of it as he became
older and around other kids who ate fruit freely.
While I’ve held onto that hope, I’ve become a little more concerned that the mood
may never just strike him out of the blue. I doubt he’ll wake one morning saying,
“Cool – today’s the day I’m super excited to try blueberries”, unless I give him a little
more assistance. And that help must somehow go beyond “just try a little bite”. A
wise friend and extremely gift occupational therapist, Wendy Chen-Sams, MS, OTR,
NDT, actually confirmed my suspicions. She said that the likelihood for young adults
to expand their palates greatly diminishes once these teens have left their childhood
home, particularly when there are strong aversions to flavor and/or texture, as is
my son’s case. Fortunately for him (and me!), he’s become more curious and
actually would like to explore and expand. He’s motivated to grow to his height
potential, and assist his overall health. Cool – the critical first step of motivation is
Wendy recommended that we not only move slowly, but also focus on only one
sensory area at a time. Since he seems to have some taste and texture aversions, she
suggested we begin first with introducing a new, mild flavor. Of particular interest
to me was the fact that colder fruits would be much less likely to trigger his gag
reflux, and will slightly numb the sensors so it’s less overwhelming — homemade
popsicles are going to be our new friends!
Our first step will be to combine familiar flavors – banana (which he loves in
pancakes & bread) and orange juice – with a new one, pear. Because we aren’t
exploring texture yet, we will be blending them together until smooth, then pouring
into popsicle molds. Once they’re ready to go, he will explore the taste receptors on
his tongue, particularly on the tip and sides. The receptors at the back of the tongue
are more sensitive, so we’ll gradually make it to those.
Once he’s tolerating (hopefully enjoying, too!), we will introduce some ever-so-
slightly larger pieces of pear within the pops, and graduate to even more texture.
As his acceptance of taste and texture improve, we’ll gradually introduce the same
pear flavor at refrigerator temp. The ultimate goal is for him to eat a pear or new
fruit without any processing. As important as it is for kids to repeatedly try new
and different foods as they begin to acquire a taste and tolerance, it’s also crucial
that we don’t try the new food every single day. A few times a week is just fine, says
So this is part of our summer adventure, and you can be sure that I will keep you
posted as it unfolds!
Of course there are a plethora of different sensory food aversions, and I am aware
that my son’s are quite mild. If you have a child struggling in a manner that is
interfering with his development or quality of life, it is crucial that you seek some
additional assistance, first checking with your pediatrician who may then refer you
to an occupational therapist, speech pathologist and/or registered dietitian who
specialize in this arena.
Two suggested reads:
Meals Without Tears: How to get Your Child to Eat Healthily and Happily,
by Dr.Rana Conway
Just Two More Bites! Helping Picky Eaters Say Yes to Food,
by Linda Piette