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Why kids can be so (ahemm… FUSSY) about meat {Uncertainty}

Understanding why a child can be picky (or fussy) about meat and meat alternatives!

Last week, I asked the wonderful parents over on our private Facebook group (Parenting Picky Eaters) about what foods their children prefer. I was not to surprised that chicken nuggets, scrambled egg, mince (in the form of lasagne & Bolognese) and sausages were the only meat (or meat alternatives) that our parents listed. So, I’m explaining meat aversion today and why kids can be so UNCERTAIN about this food. However, I’m doing it in kid-speak! (Originally a version of this post was published here on the One Handed Cooks website – another great source of recipes and inspiration for feeding your family.)


Meat aversion is relatively common for fussy eaters.  Let me break down some of the reasons for you (in kid-speak) as to why this can be so…

But I’m SOOOO busy

They are still caught up in the activity they were doing before sitting down to the meal.  In their mind they are saying “I’m going to see if the lego man can jump down from the new tower I built and then over to the couch.”  Yet instead of keeping you in the loop (and possibly without really engaging with the food) they say  “No, I don’t like it”.

But it’s SOOOO different

Often whole meats are very hard to process from a sensory point of view.  So, they say “Hey, this grilled chicken breast is all dark brown over here and then it’s white over there.  Then when it’s cut up it’s really white on the inside. And it’s looking a bit stringy.  Will that get caught in my teeth?  Why is the smell so strong?  Is it the green specks of herbs – what are they even doing there?  What is this even going to sound like in my mouth? Well, I think this is all too hard to process right now.  I think I just want a cracker.”  Yet again they refuse to keep you in the loop and what they actually say is “No, I don’t like it”.

But it’s SOOOO big

Meat (especially whole pieces) can be presented in a way that is too big for their mouth.  Kids are thinking “Hey, how am I supposed to put these huge meatballs in my mouth, get them under my big teeth, chew them and form a neat little bolus ready for me to swallow? It’s just that they are too big and my mouth is only comfortable opening about 1.5cm high, given the size of my mouth. I would prefer the crackers.”  So, inevitably we hear  “No, I don’t like it!”

But it’s touching SOOOO many other things

Meats can often be mixed up with other foods with other textures. Mixed texture foods are difficult for kids to approach depending on their sensory state, motor planning ability and oral motor function – skills that take a long time to refine. Examples of mixed textures include some my other family recipes for swede topped cottage pies, baked tacos or the very-popular-in-our-house Peruvian lomo saltado.

Yet, in a child’s mind they are saying “Hey, what do you call this?  Confuse the children day?  I don’t even want to start trying to work out how to put these things on my fork – some are slippery, some are hard and some are just plain … I don’t know what!  Once they are on my fork then what?  Some of it could slip off, go all over my shirt or face and then you’ll just come at me with that terrible cloth to clean me up.  And the if it actually makes it in my mouth, what? Am I supposed to deal with something that is sloppy and something that is hard at.the.SAME.time?  There is just too much going on right here in this bowl for me to even start processing it!”  So, without saying all this they turn around and just say “No, I don’t like it!”

But it’s SOOOO chewy

Kids are pretty quick to decide when the effort vs reward balance is off kilter. In their mind they are saying “Hey, that looks really tough and seems like I would have to chew for too long to get that into a manageable enough state to swallow. I just don’t have the inclination to spend that much time doing such a rewardless activity right now when I just want to play with my new lego”.  And instead what you will hear is “No, I don’t like it”.


Nutrition Hacks for Meat Avoiders

In addition to understanding a child’s aversion (or uncertainty) towards meat, I’m giving you some nutrition hacks (which should also be taken into consideration with the mealtime environment, root causes of fussy eating and your language – that I guide parents through in more depth within my fussy eating resources).

  • Serve meats (or alternatives) on a skewer in smaller pieces.
  • Serve meats (or alternatives) from the middle of the table with a combination of other foods including some tolerated ones.
  • Serve them at meal opportunities that aren’t at the end of the day (aversions are more likely when children are tired!)
  • Remember that meat (or alternatives) aren’t a large contributor to the overall daily intake for children and quality is important. Children can get these nutrients from leafy greens and legumes too that lend themselves to possibly less smell-bombarding foods like hummus, smoothies, baked goods and dips.
  • Iron absorption is assisted by vitamin C and competes with calcium (see this post for more information on calcium – kids drinking milk).  Note, when there is a deficiency in iron and zinc, fussy behaviours can increase and perpetuate the cycle.
  • Serve meats in easy to chew or size appropriate portions – like making these baked beef and vegetable meatballs (size of a pinky-finger-tip), pulled meats (to make them easier to chew) and marinated meats.
  • Fish is also definitely worth exploring as a family meal idea more frequently too.
  • Let kids have control on how their foods are presented and respect their mealtime responsibilities (like in this crumb-free chicken parmigiana recipe.)

 

What camp does your meat avoider fall into? What is the root cause of their aversion?

If you think some of your child’s issues with meat or meat alternatives are more than fussy eating – please read about knowing when to seek additional help.

For more strategies on handling meat aversion and food aversions in general, check out my “shop” for detailed videos and packages to get you on the road to saying goodbye to fussy eating and hello to happy mealtimes.

Also in this series on UNCERTAINTY and feeding kids:

tip: make sure you are on the email list so you know when the blog posts are available

Defining uncertainty and phrases to amplify around your fussy eater

{Coming Soon} Is it war or peas? A book review

{Coming Soon} Nutrition hacks to boost your child’s preferred carbohydrates

{Coming Soon} What an astronaut can teach us about feeding kids. {Anxiety and uncertainty around new food}

{Coming Soon} What I didn’t expect as a result of BLW? A guest post.

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