Have you ever said, “Just eat the chicken…it is the same as a chicken nugget! “ What about french fries, mashed potatoes, hash browns, and the very dreaded baked potato?! They seem the same to most of us but there is such a big difference to kids and adults with sensory and feeding issues. Introducing your child to new foods or transitioning to healthier alternatives can be a challenge. Our team of licensed occupational therapists can help when it comes to Children and Nutrition.

Introducing a healthy diet can sometimes be challenging, especially with children who have sensory or feeding issues. While chicken nuggets may seem like an easier, kid-friendly choice, there is one big difference – nutritional value! A  store-bought frozen chicken nugget is about 3x higher in sodium than a chicken breast. It has only 25% of the protein of a serving of chicken breast, and has almost double the fat content. The value ratio definitely favors the chicken breast even if it is less convenient. You are getting more sodium and fat which are bad in high quantities and less protein. Protein helps to build muscle and repair damaged tissues. Protein also can help your child feel full longer, thus reducing their need to snack more between meals. Protein is good for strong bones, cardiovascular health, and brain function. 

So why wouldn’t you want your child to eat more protein? Or why won’t they eat it?

Unfortunately, some kids will be more difficult to transition from a chicken nugget to a chicken breast than others. It could be that the texture is different, the flavor is different, or that the chicken nugget is so much easier to chew.

Nutrition tips from an Occupational Therapist:

  • If your child uses dipping sauces with their chicken nuggets, try presenting a few sauces on their plate with cut up chicken breast. Your child may just start dunking the chicken breast in the sauces and eat it with no problem.  
  • You may also want to try tenderizing your chicken breast so that it is more similar in texture to the chicken nugget meat which is softer and  easier to chew. 
  • You may also want to try combining tenderizing the chicken breast with making your own homemade breading. Again this makes the texture similar to the chicken nugget and also makes the flavor more similar for an easier transition.
  • Baking or grilling your chicken breast will keep the fat content lower, but if you need to fry the chicken breast in the beginning of the transition,  go ahead! Once your child will tolerate the fried chicken breast, keep trying to move them toward baked or grilled for the best nutritional value.

Remember that it’s normal for children not to like new and different things at first. This can be a big challenge for people that are not very flexible. Small steps need to be rewarded and encouraged. Pressure and consequences are rarely effective in this situation and can backfire by making a picky eater have a more restricted diet. Some tiny steps can be touching, smelling, licking, or even playing with the chicken. If you can play with your food it is not as scary.

It can be hard to get children to switch from a food that they know they like to something new or different but it is worth it to try. One of the most important things you can do to help your child transition to something new is to keep presenting the new food to them. Maybe your child won’t taste the chicken breast the first or even fifth time you put it on the plate. But maybe the next time your child will touch it or smell it or even lick it. Your child is moving in the right direction if you start to see these behaviors. So don’t give up! Keep presenting that chicken breast!  

If you are not seeing progress or change, we have a team of occupational therapists in Erie, PA, ready to help. Call Niagara Therapy, LLC today to take a big bite out of this problem!

Let us know what’s on your mind!