Encourage Your Kid to Chew: Practical Tips for Parents

The seemingly simple act of chewing is a foundational skill that impacts various aspects of health and development. It’s the first step in the digestive process, breaking down food into manageable pieces and mixing it with saliva to begin the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Beyond aiding digestion and ensuring our bodies can absorb the nutrients, chewing plays a crucial role in speech and jaw muscle development. However, for some children, mastering the art of chewing presents a series of challenges.

These challenges might stem from sensory issues, developmental delays, or other factors. In this article, we aim to equip parents with the knowledge and practical strategies to support their child’s development of proficient chewing skills.

Understanding the Reasons Behind Chewing Difficulties

For some children, the journey to accepting a variety of textures is marred by hypersensitivity. This sensitivity can make the feel of certain foods in their mouth (whether they be slimy, crunchy, or anything in between) uncomfortable or even unbearable.

These sensory challenges can significantly impact a child’s willingness and ability to chew various foods effectively.

Delayed Motor Development

Chewing is a complex motor skill requiring jaw, tongue, and lip coordination. Children may find it challenging to chew efficiently when their development is delayed. This delay can stem from a variety of causes, including general developmental delays or specific medical conditions.

Oral Motor Issues

Children facing oral motor problems may struggle with the coordination needed for effective chewing. These issues can affect the jaw’s movement, the tongue’s ability to manipulate food, and the lips’ ability to keep food inside the mouth during chewing.

Picky Eating

Picky eating is a multifaceted issue that can sometimes be rooted in difficulties with chewing or an aversion to certain food textures. It’s a cyclical problem in which a reluctance to try new foods can limit exposure and practice, further entrenching chewing difficulties.

Previous Reliance on Purees

Sometimes, an extended period of feeding primarily pureed foods can delay the development of chewing skills. While purees are an excellent starting point for infants, gradually introducing more textured foods is crucial for developing the muscles and coordination needed for chewing.

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Encourage Your Kid to Chew Practical Tips for Parents

Identifying Signs Your Child Needs Help with Chewing

One of the most apparent signs of chewing difficulties is gagging or choking on foods with a bit more texture. This reaction can indicate that the child isn’t breaking down the food sufficiently before attempting to swallow.

Storing Food in Cheeks

Some children may “pocket” food in their cheeks, holding onto it instead of chewing and swallowing. This behavior can suggest difficulties with managing food in the mouth.

Prolonged Mealtimes

If meals are consistently taking much longer than expected, it might be a sign that your child is struggling with chewing. This extended mealtime can be due to the effort required to chew or the reluctance to engage with the food.

Spitting Out Food

Immediately spitting out textured foods can indicate discomfort with or inability to chew certain textures, indicating a need for further support in developing chewing skills.

Preference for Soft Foods

An exclusive preference for soft, pureed foods over more textured options can significantly indicate chewing difficulties. This preference often arises from the child’s comfort and ease with swallowing these textures compared to others.

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Practical Tips to Encourage Chewing

Children learn by example, so parents and other family members must model good chewing habits during meals.

Demonstrating how to chew thoroughly and enjoy a variety of textures can encourage your child to mimic these behaviors.

Gradual Texture Progression

Introducing textures slowly can help acclimate your child to the sensation of chewing different types of foods.

Start with soft, easily chewable items like bananas, ripe mangoes, and avocados, then gradually introduce foods that require more effort to chew, such as well-cooked vegetables and finely ground meats.

Small Bites

Encouraging your child to take tiny bites can help reduce the overwhelming sensation that sometimes accompanies chewing. Smaller pieces are easier to manage and help build confidence in their chewing abilities.

Mealtime Modifications

Creating a focused and positive mealtime atmosphere is essential. Minimize distractions like TV and toys, and aim for a relaxed setting that encourages your child to concentrate on eating. Frequent, small meals can also prevent your child from becoming too tired to eat effectively.

Fun with Food

Making mealtime enjoyable can significantly increase your child’s willingness to practice chewing. Use playful language, cut food into fun shapes, and encourage self-feeding to give your child a sense of control and excitement about eating.

Oral Motor Exercises

Simple exercises like blowing bubbles, sucking through a

straw, or chewing on chewy tubes can strengthen the muscles involved in chewing. These activities can be fun and beneficial for your child’s oral motor development.

Celebrate Small Wins

Positive reinforcement can go a long way. Celebrate every attempt, no matter how small, with plenty of praise and encouragement. This positive feedback can motivate your child to keep trying and improving.

When to Seek Professional Help

Despite your best efforts, some children may experience significant chewing difficulties. In these cases, it’s essential to consult with a pediatrician to rule out any underlying conditions.

A speech and language therapist or an occupational therapist can also provide specialized support, mainly if oral-motor skills or sensory issues contribute to the problem.


Developing practical chewing skills requires patience, consistency, and creativity. Parents can significantly support their child’s progress by understanding the potential challenges and implementing practical strategies.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Stay positive, be adaptable, and don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance when necessary.

With time and support, your child can develop the chewing skills to enjoy a wide range of nutritious foods and embark on a lifetime of healthy eating habits.


1. Why is chewing considered a crucial skill for children?

Chewing is fundamental for several reasons. It initiates the digestive process by breaking down food, making it easier to digest and allowing for better nutrient absorption. It also plays a vital role in speech development and jaw muscle strengthening, contributing to overall health and development.

2. What causes some children to struggle with chewing?

Children may face difficulties with chewing due to a variety of reasons, including sensory sensitivities to textures or tastes, delayed motor development affecting the muscles necessary for chewing, oral motor issues that hinder effective coordination of the jaw, tongue, and lips, and experiences such as picky eating or prolonged reliance on purees that limit exposure to textured foods.

3. How can I tell if my child is having trouble chewing?

Signs that your child might need help with chewing include gagging or choking on textured foods, storing food in their cheeks (pocketing), taking excessively long mealtimes, spitting out food immediately after tasting it, or showing a strong preference for soft, pureed foods over more textured options.

4. What are some practical tips to encourage my child to chew better?

You can support your child’s chewing development by modeling good chewing habits yourself, gradually introducing a variety of textures, starting with softer foods and moving to more challenging ones, encouraging small bites, making mealtime a focused and positive experience, and turning eating into a fun activity with playful language and food shapes. Additionally, oral motor exercises can be beneficial.

5. Can picky eating be related to chewing difficulties?

Yes, picky eating can sometimes stem from challenges with chewing or an aversion to certain food textures. It may create a cycle where reluctance to try new textures limits exposure and practice, reinforcing the difficulty with chewing.

6. How can I make mealtime more conducive to practicing chewing?

Minimize distractions, offer frequent, small meals to prevent fatigue, and encourage a positive outlook towards eating to create a relaxed and positive mealtime atmosphere. Making mealtime enjoyable and engaging can significantly help.

I’m Amanda Patrick, the founder and voice behind this blog. As a devoted mother of two sons and one daughter, I understand the joys, challenges, and triumphs of raising children. With a background in education and a passion for child development, I’ve made it my mission to provide practical insights and actionable tips to help parents nurture happy, healthy, and resilient children.

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