Monday, October 31, 2011

Children Don't Like Mushy, Slimy Textured Foods -- Until They Get Used to Them

By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food

Most children love tomato sauce.  Pizza tops the list of favorite foods for most children, and spaghetti is usually not far behind.

Strangely enough, though, fresh tomatoes are one of the least liked foods for children.

How is this possible?  How can children love tomatoes when they are cooked into a tomato sauce, and hate them just as vehemently when they are fresh?

Tomatoes are Slimy

Although there are some subtle taste differences, the main difference between tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes is their texture.  The inside of fresh tomatoes is slimy.  Children don't like this slimy texture.

The Human Brain Thinks that Slimy = Rotten

Most plants become slimy when they start to rot.  Rotten food is less nutritious and may be contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Human beings have a strong instinct to avoid slimy or mushy food.  You may have had the experience of accidentally eating or drinking something that has gone bad and has become slimy.  It probably felt extremely repulsive and you spat it out.  

Another Reason Why Kids Don't Eat Their Vegetables -- The Texture!

Some vegetables and fruits naturally have a slimy texture.  The infamous tomato is one.  Cantaloupe, okra, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, and grapes are others.

However, most fruits and vegetables are at least a little mushy or slimy.  This is one of the reasons why children often don't like fruits and vegetables.

Children Need More Repetitions to Learn to Eat Slimy Food

Nature gave us the dislike of slimy, mushy textures as a warning.  But our primitive ancestors would have starved to death if they disliked perfectly nutritious, healthy food that just happened to have a slightly slimy or mushy texture.

Your child's mind can learn to love tomatoes, grapes, and other mushy, slimy food.  But she has to learn to like them over time.  Nature made her apprehensive, but provided the means to "test" these foods for rottenness by eating small portions, and then waiting to see whether there were any symptoms of poisoning.

You can teach your child to like tomatoes, cantaloupe, grapes, and all other fruits and vegetables, by giving them to her often.  Her dislike of the slimy textures will dissipate over time.

Processed Food Makes Real Food Textures Seem Strange and Dangerous

Processed food has textures that are the very opposite of slimy.  Processed food is usually crunchy, chewy, or creamy.

Manufacturers strive for these textures because their foods don't have to go through a "trial period" where people's minds wonder whether they are poisonous or not. Processed food manufacturers want their customers to like a food immediately because they may not buy the food again if they don't like it the first time they taste it.

However, if your child eats mostly processed foods, the threshold for a food tasting too slimy or mushy will lower.  Your child's mind will only find processed food textures "safe".  Natural, real food textures will seem disgusting or unappealing.

By giving your child processed foods, you are teaching her to dislike the texture of real foods.

A child who is used to the taste of fruits and vegetables won't notice their slightly slimy textures.  A child who is used to food that is dry, crunchy, chewy, or creamy will notice even the subtlest of slimy textures and push her plate of vegetables away.

If you give your child fresh fruits and vegetables, she will learn to be tolerant of the many textures that fruits and vegetables have.

Very Fresh Vegetables are Less Slimy

Produce usually takes a week or more to get to the supermarket.  In this time, the rotting process begins.  Supermarket fruits and vegetables are more slimy and mushy than fresh picked fruits and vegetables.

If you want to convert your tomato-hater into a tomato lover, try to find extremely fresh tomatoes.  They are very firm and much less mushy inside. Many tomato haters have been transformed when they first picked a fresh tomato off a vine and ate it.

Grow your own plants, or find a farmer's market or community supported agriculture farm. 

Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on

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  1. I am one of the children who are fussy eaters. I'm 15 years old and I related to this article so much, about just being used to processed foods and being 'scared' by foods with new textures. When my mum offers me new food to eat it's peas, lettuce and tomatoes. I'd never ask for something new because it repulses me, the thought. I know I have to eat something else but I dont know. I guess I'm stubborn. It feels as if I'm 'giving in' asking for something else. Processed food is easy.

  2. I have children that won't eat beans, rice and simple inexpensive foods like pasta, potatoes etc. HELP! Any ideas?

  3. Here are some ways to get your child to eat these healthy, inexpensive foods.

    1) Give them these foods when they are hungry. Eating when you are hungry makes foods taste better. Over time they will like them better.

    2) Give them less of the foods you don't want them to eat. If you give them those foods 3 times a day, start out by giving those foods to them once a day, then once every few days, then once a week. Serve the foods you want them to eat instead. If they go hungry a few times, don't worry. Kids aren't harmed by a little hunger every now and then.

    3) The foods you mentioned are all bland tasting -- without strong tastes. I wonder whether your children prefer foods with more taste. Try adding spices, garlic, herbs, and other flavors. As a bonus, these foods are high in antioxidants. Mashed potatoes taste wonderful when mixed with heated milk, butter, fresh basil, and garlic.

    4) Keep working at it. Changing taste preferences take time.

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