Welcome to another week of ninja therapy articles! This week, we were asked for help with feeding and feeding tips. Feeding can be a big difficulty for many individuals with special needs. There is a broad spectrum of individuals of varying abilities that each have their own needs when it comes to food. We are going to try to cover a wide array of tips and techniques, as well as supply you with resources that can help you in case we don’t cover exactly what you’re looking for from us.
According to Emily Martin, OT:
“Like we said, feeding is super broad. The problems could stem from a couple of factors: motor issues with chewing and swallowing, oral aversion, oral sensory defensiveness, picky eating, or feeding disorder.
I always stress to parents that it is very important to see an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding. Feeding therapists can provide individual interventions based on the kiddo’s needs and recommend appropriate feeding equipment to ensure the health and safety of the child. You might have to do a little bit of research to find the right one you’re you and your child, but trust me, getting a feeding therapist helps so much.
That said, there are several things you can try before meeting with a feeding specialist.
Food can be a sensory experience. Desensitizing kids to certain scents, feelings, and tastes of foods can be a way to engage a child with the sensory feeling of food. Here are a few things to try:
For younger kids, let them play and interact with their food. Sure, it might get a little messy, but allowing a child to get familiar with the textures and scents in their own way can be a big help.
For older children, invite them to cook with you. Getting a child involved in the process of making a meal not only builds essential developmental skills, it also provides a sense of pride that may make them more receptive to eating the dinner they made.
Offer foods that work oral motor skills. Crunchy or chewy foods that get the jaw moving and make the tongue push food around the mouth are great. Drinking think liquids or foods like smoothies, applesauce, soups, or yogurt through a large straw can also be used to engage oral muscles.
In helping your child integrate new sensory stimulations into their sensory diet (and their food diet) your inner ninja is hard at work. Long term, desensitizing your child to the sights, smells, and textures of different things, especially food, will be a great help.
Let’s Get Physical
Sometimes, feeding a child’s sensory cravings just before dinner is the best way to get them to eat. If the child is a picky eater, I often suggest to parents should try introducing some pre-meal physical activity to their dinner routine.
Try writing some various physical or sensory activities on popsicle sticks. Ask the kiddos pick three sticks from a cup. Set a visual timer for 15 minutes and spend a few minutes doing all three the activities. Make sure you leave a few minutes to cool down once the timer goes off so that they’re ready to sit nicely at the table.
For kids who do more wiggling at the dinner table than eating, tried-and-true solutions like cushions that allow for movement, foot fidgets, or a washable weighted lap pad. A little extra sensory input could go a long way toward a better meal time for everyone.
Keep Track of It
When it comes to introducing new foods to picky eaters, a calendar might just be your best friend. I like to suggest that parents create a loose 8-week schedule that takes the pressure off both the parents and their children.
Week 1: The food is just in the room where the child can see it
Week 2: Food brought to the table, but the child doesn’t have to interact with it
Week 3: Food is on the child’s plate, but they don’t have to play or eat it
Week 4: Food is on the child’s plate, but they have to at least touch the food
Week 5: Food is on the plate and child must pick it up
Week 6: Food is on the plate and the child must smell it, kiss it or bring it closer to the mouth
Week 7: Food is on the plate and child must try a bite
Week 8: reinforce all the steps to make sure the kiddo is ok with the food.
I tell parents to start with small things, like American cheese slices. You can use a chunk of a slice of cheese every night, so you are not having to spend a lot of money on the same food item. Our goal is to provide the kiddo with the food, and it’s their job to interact with it. If they have a hard time or if you notice a pattern in your calendar, you can adjust.
Using a calendar to track your child’s progress during their 8-week new food trial period is one of the best tactics to ninja therapy your way to a more diverse eater. You don’t have to let your kiddo in on your plan. They might never know you even have a calendar to help them integrate a new food into their diet, which makes you the most secret of ninjas.
Sometimes Chicken Nuggets Are Okay
Your child won’t make progress every day, and sometimes the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets from the frozen section of the grocery store are all your kid will eat (or whatever other food they love). That’s okay! Remember: fed is always best, even if they insist your latest casserole is “gross.”
Take each of these tips and ideas at your own discretion. Go at your own pace and try again another day. If the challenge becomes overwhelming, don’t be afraid to get a feeding therapist involved.
If you have any questions for our Occupational Therapist Emily, please submit them below! Please keep in mind that filling out this form results in the potential for your question to be anonymously shared on our blog with our answer. We try to be as responsive and helpful as possible but submitting your question does not guarantee a response.