By: Heidi Liefer Moreland, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, CLC

Whether your child is weaning from the feeding tube or just learning to eat new things, grocery shopping can be a challenge. Especially right now, grocery shopping can be hard and you might not always find the specific food you’re looking for.   If your child’s favorite food isn’t available, below you’ll find some descriptions for foods that may be similar! Whether you are shopping on-line or streamlining your physical trips, there are good choices all over the store, especially if you look for foods with specific characteristics, rather than specific foods. 

Here’s how we shop for kids at different ages/stages when they are new eaters and we don’t know yet what they will like.   Keep in mind that kids are more likely to try what they see others eating but ultimately food preferences are very personal choices based on a combination of factors, not just skill.  That means that within each category, it will be helpful if you balance your choices between things you would eat and things you might not. 

If your child is just starting: We start with hard, solid foods that are easy to pick up.  We don’t expect them to be actually chewed or swallowed, these are more like “chew toys.” This is an especially important step for kids who are distrustful or anxious.  They need to experience food independently with as few scary experiences as possible.   

Look for: Foods that won’t break and don’t really have any loose pieces.  For some, even juice or crumbs are too much for them to handle.  Smaller pieces are choking hazards, we recommend bigger pieces the size of a fat marker. For safety reasons, always use with supervision.  Try to bite or break a piece off yourself before serving it to your child to make sure they can’t accidentally break off a piece they can’t manage.    

Produce: big raw carrots, celery sticks, apple halves or slices, not quite ripe pears, lemon/lime/orange/ grapefruit wedges with the skin on. Red pepper slices, raw broccoli or cauliflower sticks, parsnip sticks or wedges, raw snap peas, raw green beans 

Bread: bagels, biscotti, hard breads, pizza crust (remember these will break down as they chew) 

Aisle Foods: Pickles, hard baked pretzels (not rods or sticks, they break more easily) or soft pretzels, fruit leather rolled into sticks 

Proteins: beef jerky, tough strips of meat, thick cut bacon, a bone that has most of the meat removed 

Candy/Cookies: licorice, suckers, hard cookies (like gingerbread) 

Avoid: Foods that shatter or snap.  Keep an eye on foods as they eat, some will break down with saliva and become soft or breakable over time 

If your child is OK with a taste that stays on their tongue – Typically purees are introduced at 4-6 months of age, beginning with stage 1 or 2 baby foods.  Once kids are about 8 – 10 months, we find that they tend to reject the baby foods in favor of more flavorful foods.    

Look for: Consistency – some kids need the food to stay on the spoon and not be runny, others need the foods to be thin and less likely to “stick” in the mouth.  Consider flavor – if your child tends to under-respond to input, look for strong flavors, for those kids that are sensitive to input, look for more bland foods.   

Produce: bananas and berries are easily blended, fruit pie filling (not the fruit pieces), avocado dip/guacamole, thicker smoothies 

Dairy (refrigerated): Blended or whipped yogurts (avoid fruit pieces and low fat), sour cream, dip  

Aisle Foods: sauces (alfredo, marinara) ketchup, ranch dressing, cream or cheese-based soups, cheese dip/sauce, garlic butter, syrup, gravy, icing 

Protein: Greek yogurt, white bean hummus, sweet pea spread (These tend to be thicker, so go slow if their skills are new) 

Avoid: Purees with mixed consistencies or unpredictable lumps (like fruit chunks in yogurt, stew, breakfast cereal with milk or stage 3 baby foods) 

If your child likes crunchy foods: Lots of kids love crunchy foods! Because most crunchy foods are processed, they are predictable and easier to master, even with minimal or inefficient chewing skills.  “Crunchies” give new or fragile eaters easy calories and enjoyment, so don’t overlook this as progress, even if it feels like “junk food” to you.  There will be a chance to add in more complex, less processed foods once their skills and trust are established.    

Consider: Do they break, crumble or melt?  

Organic/Produce Aisle: Freeze dried fruits and vegetables  

Aisle Foods: Veggies straws or sticks, Ritz crackers, animal crackers, Nilla wafers, Ritz bits, Fruit loops, Bambas (Peanut butter puffs), Cheetohs, snap pea crisps,   

Proteins:  Pork rinds, Snap pea crisps, Bambas  (limited, but still slightly higher) 

If your child shows interest in table foods or swallowing bits of it Typically, kids begin to show interest in soft table foods between 8-10 months.  They don’t need to be swallowing whole bites at first, it’s ok if only small pieces are being “eaten” and the rest is coming out.   

Look for: Foods that hold together enough to be picked up by your child.  They should be soft enough to be mashed with the tongue.  

Produce: Avocado, banana, soft baked apples or peaches (like pie filling), steamed/sautéed broccoli, cauliflower, baked potato or sweet potato, watermelon, very ripe pear, cooked squash, berries 

Breads/Baked Goods: Muffins, breads (don’t forget zucchini, pumpkin, banana, etc), croissants, cinnamon rolls, Hawaiian rolls, soft cookies, brownie bites, cake pops, Fig newtons 

Aisle Foods:  Soft cooked pasta, nutragrain bars,  

Refrigerated Foods: Cinnamon rolls, soft cheese, eggs (scrambled), soft cookies 

Proteins/Frozen Foods (of course they can be home or restaurant made): French toast sticks/pancakes/waffles, appetizer sized quiche, steak fries, tater tots, soft bread sticks, soft cooked frozen vegetables, breads, muffins, baked/fried nuggets such as Dr. Praeger’s Veggie nuggets, black bean burgers (may have a bit of spice, ravioli, potato cakes/latkes, tamales, flaky fish, fish sticks 

Avoid: foods that roll (peas), food with skin (blueberries are difficult for some kids), foods that scatter (rice), fibrous foods that need grinding (most meats) choking hazards (whole grapes, hot dogs, raw apples and carrots)  See the AAP page on choking hazards  

* With all new eaters, watch closely, you don’t know what their oral skills are.  If they are consistently breaking off a piece of the food, that has to be out of the rotation for now, especially if it causes them to gag or become frightened.   

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