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

Practice Makes Perfect!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACold mornings, snow days, runny noses, high fevers, doctor appointments! These are just some of the challenges this time of year presents for families intending to bring their children to weekly therapy appointments – and even the best laid plans can go awry. However, consistent attendance is crucial to the progress children make in therapy. What’s a parent to do…?

1. Home practice!  Did you know that a child’s time in therapy can be reduced by up to half if they practice on a regular basis? If homework is not provided to you, please ask your therapist what you can do at home to practice skills learned in therapy. Many fun, multi-modal activities can be recommended, including iPad apps, games, and movement break ideas. Your therapist can help you brainstorm ideas to build practice opportunities into your daily routine; homework does not necessarily need to occur sitting down at the kitchen table. Children learn best when they are emotionally invested and having fun. Working on /s/ blends? Try a “splash” game in the tub! Need to work on balance? How about building an indoor obstacle course!  Visit our Pinterest page for additional home practice ideas. And check out these great homework tips from Tactus Therapy.

2. Makeups.  Makeups offer your child the opportunity to catch up on their missed lessons. Should your therapist be unavailable when you need a makeup, consider a makeup with a different therapist. A substitute therapist can often suggest novel activities for your regular therapist to try, as well as provide a second set of eyes and ears on your child’s development. Establishing an ongoing relationship with at least one sub can be helpful, especially for young children who may be shy around new people.

3. Teamwork. Foster collaboration between your therapist and your child’s classroom teacher. Teachers are often eager to help generalize therapy skills, but may want to touch base with your therapist before doing so. This is an important piece of therapy, as it is a time for your child to demonstrate and carryover learned speech, language, and OT skills. When everyone is consistent and on the same page, your child has the opportunity to progress quicker.

Stay warm and happy practicing!