Put Down the Pouch

food pouchesIf you have a child under the age of five, you are probably quite familiar with the popular “pouches” of pureed foods that have taken over the grocery store shelves! This modern convenience has totally revolutionized on-the-go snacking. It is easy to see why they are so popular – blends of fruits, veggies, legumes, and even meats are packaged in single-serving pouches that have a long shelf life, don’t need to be refrigerated, and are easily sucked through a neat little spout at the the top. Kids can slurp down 1-3 servings of healthy goodness in no time at all!

But before you jump on the “pouch bandwagon,” let’s pause for a moment. As a pediatric speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist who specializes in children under five (and a toddler-mom myself), I recommend taking a few points into consideration:

1. Oral Motor/Fine Motor Development

  • Babies and toddlers acquire very important oral motor skills while learning to eat solid foods. If a child is mostly eating purees, the mouth is not having to do very much work. We want those lips, tongues, and jaws learning how to move in different ways to chew and swallow a variety of textures of foods. Sucking through the spout of a pouch promotes an immature oral pattern, similar to that used with a sippy cup or a pacifier. Additionally, eating solid foods allows the child to practice picking up foods with fingers, and later with utensils. These skills take practice!

2. Sensory Diversity

  • Purees in pouches are a silky smooth texture that is easily swallowed with minimal oral manipulation. Lack of exposure to a variety of textures could result in decreased tolerance of more textured foods down the road. If you notice that your child already tends to gag or grimace when eating more textured foods, it is important to give him exposure to a variety of textures, and not have him get too used to smooth purees.

3. Picky Eating

  • Purees in pouches advertise themselves as being filled with a variety of flavors, but in reality, they are all fairly bland and it is difficult to tease out individual tastes. I can’t tell you how many children I have evaluated who will eat a food in “pouch-form” but not in any other preparation. We want to expose our children to a variety of flavor profiles early in life to promote a well-rounded diet and willingness to try new foods. Furthermore, pouches are often “sucked down” quickly, without much time for tasting/savoring flavor. It is important that children explore and taste foods to develop a diverse palate.

4. Overeating

  • With so much emphasis on fighting childhood obesity, it is important to consider the habits we are teaching our children. Pouches pack anywhere from 60-200 calories a pop. Children may get accustomed to quickly downing a pouch for a snack, and not necessarily factoring that in when choosing foods later. For older kids, pouches aren’t very filling, and therefore, it is easy to overeat.

5. Social Skills

  • Meal time is more than just nutritional intake. It is a social experience. Taking time to eat a snack bite-by-bite lends itself to sitting with a friend or family member and chatting. Children learn manners and social norms surrounding meals, and watching others eat can encourage more adventurous eating.

All that being said, there is no doubt that pouches are a convenient and easy way to get some fruits and veggies in your kids. They are especially great for on-the-go snacking!  As a busy working mom myself, I have certainly been known to appease my screaming toddler with a fruit pouch in the Target checkout line – I totally get it! My professional recommendation is to use them in moderation and prioritize eating solid foods as much as possible. I suggest keeping pouches reserved for snacks outside the home and avoiding them at meal times. Fostering a love of trying different foods will promote life-long, healthy-eating habits. For more ideas of ways to encourage trying new foods, check out our previous post on picky eating.

Happy Snacking!

– Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Too Many Toys!

As a parent, it is easy to fall into the trap of buying millions of toys for your precious little one. The market is filled with expensive toys with words like “educational” or “learning” on the packaging. Unless you have unlimited storage space (not to mention an unlimited budget), and children who miraculously put away their own toys in a perfectly organized manner, too many toys usually just leads to clutter! What if you could pare down to just 10 toys? Here is a list of 10 favorite essential toys that will stimulate your toddler’s language skills and keep them entertained:

  1. Ball Popper (or any cause and effect toy)

I usually gravitate toward the “low-tech” toys that do not make noise and do not require batteries; however there’s always an exception to the rule and for that we have the ball popper!  This toy teaches cause and effect, which is an early basic developmental skill. The music and vibrant colors keep this activity motivating for both babies and toddlers. A trusty “on-off” switch allows adults more control between turns!

ball popper

Recommended language uses: turn-taking (my turn/your turn), sequencing (take pictures of your child completing the activity, print them out, and have them put the pictures in order), targeting concepts (on/off, up/down, in/out), identifying colors, counting, expanding utterances (on…turn on…turn balls on, etc.), targeting sounds (ie. /g/ in “go”), and overall engagement.

*Hasbro.com

  1. Barn with Farm Animals

You can’t go wrong with farm animals. It is preferable to have animals and barns that do not make sounds so that the child and parent can do all the narrating (you can still buy one that makes sounds – just take out the batteries or never put them in!). Most kids love to play with animals and will delight in this activity. You can model actions with the animals and then follow your child’s lead.

barn with animals

Recommended language uses: learning prepositions (put the cow in/on/under + {place}), animal sounds, vocabulary (ie. barn, tractor, farmer, hay), responding to wh-questions (Who is it? Where does he go? What is he doing?), categories (all farm animals vs. sea animals, for example), and pretend play (a great time to role play, give voices to “characters,” and establish a story line).

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Stacking Blocks/Stacking Cups

stacking blocks

Most kids love building and will delight in the dramatic effect of a “crash” of the tower. Here’s where stacking blocks or cups can be both fun and educational. Have your child help you build a tower and anticipate as you say knock the tower down. Hide items under or in the cups to make a fun hide-and-seek game.

Recommended language uses: prepositions (in, on, off, out….), blocks and cups allow children to learn problem solving, collaborative play, sequencing and following directions

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Baby Doll and Accessories

baby dollGirls and boys alike enjoy playing with baby dolls. Dolls are a great way to teach pretend play as well as show your little one how to be affectionate and gentle. Caring for a baby doll also lends itself to using lots of functional vocabulary that will help your child talk about his own daily activities!  (eat, drink, wash, sleep, hug, brush, cup, etc)

Recommended language uses:  pretend play, vocabulary (both nouns and verbs), expanded utterances and word order (ie. baby eat, baby hungry, baby want eat)

*ToysRUs.com

  1. Play Kitchen/Food/Dishes

The possibilities are endless with a play kitchen and pretend food. Make dinner, have a tea party, throw a birthday bash, open a restaurant, or even concoct a magic potion! play kitchenPlaying with food and talking about food helps foster healthy eating habits. Children will learn many practical skills and, hey, they may even develop an interest in helping with the dishes!

Recommended language uses: sharing, following directions, symbolic play, sequencing (eg. recipes), role play, kitchen vocabulary, expanded categories (food vs. fruit/vegetables/drinks)

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Car Ramp/Cars

Fisher-Price-Little-People-City-SkywayReady…Set….GO!” Toddlers love making things go, and the sky is the limit with a simple car ramp and a few cars. I love using car ramps to teach

Recommended language uses: turn-taking, verbal requesting, vocalizing on command, expanded utterances (Go car!), articulation of k/g, cause and effect

*Fisher Price at Toys R Us

  1. Wooden Puzzles

wooden puzzleYou’d be surprised at how early young children will start showing an interest in puzzles. They love figuring out how to turn the pieces in order to get them to fit just right. I love puzzles for many reasons but one of my favorite aspects is the task completion! It is exciting for a child to learn to stick with a task until she gets the job done – a skill that will serve her well for the rest of her life!

Recommended language uses: task completion, basic problem solving, vocabulary (depending on the puzzle you choose – the sky’s the limit!)

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Toy Instruments

little tikes drumInstruments are such a fun way to encourage children to play together. Instruments foster imitation, following directions, and motor control. Music is also a great way to engage your brain. The possibilities are endless with instruments – you’ll never run out of songs!

Recommended language uses: following directions, engagement/participation, production of multi-syllabic words (tap out the syllables on a drum!), and even fluency (think of a slow movement on a drum to help the child feel the beat)

*LittleTikes.com

  1. Puppets

puppetsI love a good puppet! You can feed them play food, make them talk, make them dance, or even knock down that block tower you built! Kids love watching Daddy or Mommy get silly while making a puppet talk, and I find that puppets can be very motivating when trying to encourage a child to imitate.

Recommended language uses: role play, pretend play, articulation (eg. final /t/ in “eat”), expanded utterances, narration

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Potato Head

potato headThis toy is a classic for a reason. Mr. Potato Head’s features are the perfect size for little hands. Toddlers will learn to construct a face and label all the different parts. This is a perfect activity to work on following directions or requesting. Once Mr. Potato Head is built, he can have a tea party in your play kitchen with your baby doll and puppets! 🙂

Recommended language uses: body part labeling/vocabulary, following directions, requesting, pretend play

*Playskool at ToysRUs.com

Of course, this list is in no way all-encompassing, but if you are looking for a simpler approach to play, this is a good start. Remember, some of the best toys are non-toys! (Think cardboard boxes, pillows, wooden spoons, pots and pans, etc). The most important thing for your child to learn at this age is to try new things, and the best way to encourage that is to get out there and PLAY TOGETHER. Have fun!