I have been meaning to write about this topic for some time, as I see more and more toddlers just sucking food from commercial food or refillable pouches.
Undoubtedly, when baby weaning foods in pouches were introduced many years ago, it revolutionized feeding infants. These pouches were not only better for the environment, but they were lighter, easy to travel with and looked kinda cool. What has suprised many of us working in paediatrics however, is how baby food in pouches has changed the way children are being fed. Suddenly a spoon was not required anymore, because the baby could just suck it directly from the pouch and parents were happy that it did not cause any mess. We now even have companies making refillable pouches and their clever advertising feeds into our aversion with mess.
It seems to be forgotten that there are essential developmental steps that need to occur for a baby/toddler to learn how to eat and allows them to have a normal relationship with food. Sucking, is a reflex a baby gets born with, so this is something that they know how to do, but chewing is something they need to learn and letting a baby/toddler just suck out of a pouch certainly does not help teach them this skill. In addition to this, there are important fine motor skills like holding a spoon and bringing this to the mouth that are important. Outside of the mechanical side of eating, eating is a sensory experience. When the food is sucked from the pouch, they do not see how the food looks, what it smells like and they just feel the texture. No wonder they then refuse home cooked food when it comes in a plate – because they used to sucking it from a pouch.
Mess is such a crucial part of getting used to foods, accepting flavours, textures and tastes. The most common therapeutic advice we give in children with feeding difficulties is to allow mess, let them play with textures and allow them to explore foods. Letting a child suck from a pouch means, we are side-stepping this very important developmental step and it can actually lead to a feeding difficulty later.
Of course, there are exceptions which I always discuss with parents – you are stuck on a plane, in a car or visiting friends with a white sofa, so in these circumstance by all means allow them to suck from the pouch, but this should not be the norm. Let them explore food in all its colour, texture and taste.