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Mealtime Mess vs. Manners

“I hate the mess at meals.”

“I have a real problem with messiness.”

“Her grandparents won’t allow it.”

“My husband can’t stand the mess.”

“Mess teaches bad manners.”

These are common responses from parents when I tell them that I want them to let their baby (or toddler) get good and messy during mealtimes. You know…squish banana between their little fingers, rub tomato sauce through their hair, poke/prod and roll peas, watch mashed potatoes go splat and giggle as carrots bounce off the kitchen floor.

Simply put…mess is best. Children learn to eat and accept new foods if they are provided with opportunities to get messy. Eating is an experience that engages all of our 5 senses: touch, smell, tastes, sight, and sound. Kids that are encouraged to explore food and get messy tend to be less picky and more likely to eat a variety of foods and textures. Messy mealtimes foster independence by...

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Feeding Issues & Toothbrushing - 10 Tips to Help

Toothbrushing: Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How

I am not a dentist. I’m a Feeding Therapist, so when I ask parents to add toothbrushing to their child’s daily routine, it’s less to do with tooth care and more to do with feeding development.

Many families I have worked with over the years have been advised by a dentist to hold their child down and forcefully brush their teeth. As a Feeding Therapist working with children with severe sensory issues and oral aversion, I do not practice or recommend this approach. I believe that positive toothbrushing experiences support feeding progress and development.

Why?

Toothbrushing is good for your child’s oral health and an essential component of his/her general health. From a feeding perspective, kids that can tolerate mouth stimulation like toothbrushing are generally better able to handle mouth stimulation like food. Toothbrushing supports feeding development. When children can tolerate toothbrushing,...

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Tube Feeding and Tube Weaning: Part 2 - Answering Parent Questions

In last week's blog, I discussed parent questions and emotions around the decision to place a feeding tube. This week I continue the topic of tube feeding and share some of my experience about weaning children from their tubes when the time is right.

As discussed in Part 1 last week, every child and family has a unique experience with tube feeding; some children need a feeding tube for a very short time, others may require tube feedings for several years, and some kids will need a tube for their lifetime in order to support their health, growth, and nutrition. 

It's my belief and practice that regardless of a child's unique needs with a feeding tube, there is always something that can be done to provide positive oral (mouth) experiences. Even for children that are not able to eat safely, we must not forget their mouth and all of the senses we engage while enjoying food. For a child that is tube-fed, this could involve receiving a tube feed during family meals, or...

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Tube Feeding and Learning to Eat: Part 1 - Answering Parent Questions

Children with medical challenges (e.g., prematurity, cardiac, respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, swallowing), and/or severe feeding aversion may require tube feedings to support their growth and nutrition. There are many reasons why children have difficulty with feeding.  While some children will outgrow the need for a feeding tube, others will have a feeding tube for their lifetime. As a Feeding Therapist, I seek to support parents and caregivers of children that are tube-fed regardless of their unique experience. It is important to recognize that what may work for one child and family, may not work for another.

Tube feedings are intended to partially or fully replace calories from oral feedings and may be recommended to enhance weight gain or improve the nutritional status of a child who aspirates (food or liquid enters airway/lungs) or does not have the endurance to meet nutritional needs via oral feedings.

In my experience, feeding tubes are often viewed as the...

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How to Help Your Picky Eater Accept New Foods: Part 3

This week’s blog completes my 3-part series about how to help your picky eater to accept new foods.

In Part 1, I discussed how children learn to accept new foods through a sensory hierarchy of looking, touching, smelling, kissing, licking, biting and spitting-out, and eventually chewing and swallowing. In order to help your child work through these steps, your job is to provide repeated exposure to new foods in order for your child to learn about them.

In Part 2, I shared information about the child vs caregivers’ role at mealtimes. I provided actionable 10-tips to help your child work toward food acceptance.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the steps children go through when learning about new foods along with your role as caregiver to help your child be successful.

Now for Part-3. Here’s how to keep the ball rolling and continue to encourage your child to explore new foods.
The Set-Up
  • Don’t present too many new foods all at once
  • Offer...
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10 Tips to Help Picky Eaters Accept New Foods: Part 2

In last week’s blog (Part 1), I shared the sensory steps that kids often go through when learning to accept a new food. Your child may not be ready to chew and swallow a new food; however, he/she may be comfortable looking, squishing, smelling, or kissing the food. In time, he/she will work toward food acceptance, at his/her own pace.

Parents and kids both have jobs at mealtimes:

Ellyn Satter is a renowned Registered Dietician who termed the “Division of Responsibility” or Golden Rule in feeding: Adults decide what food is served, when it is served, and where. The child decides how much to eat, and whether to eat at all.  I highly recommend her website (link in references below) and resources. I often share Ellyn’s golden rule as a handout with the families I work with and I ask them to post-in on their fridge as a daily reminder: 

10 Tips to Help Parents with their Feeding Job:

1. Family Meals
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How Do I Get My Picky Eater to Try New Foods? Part 1

Answer: Try not to say, “try it” or “take a bite.”

Imagine you are visiting a new country. You are staying with a friendly group of people that enjoy fried grasshoppers as part of their culture and cuisine. They love fried grasshoppers. Watching these people crunch into the big, juicy grasshoppers with bits of legs and tentacles breaking off makes your stomach turn. Sometimes during mealtimes, you feel like gagging, as you are not familiar with this food. They keep telling you how delicious the grasshoppers are, and they constantly pressure you to just “try it”.

 

New foods are like fried grasshoppers to kids with feeding issues; they are scared of the food. The sight of a new food might make their stomach turn. They may gag or even vomit when pushed to “try” a new food. Foods that are familiar to you and me, like carrots, berries, and pasta might look like fried grasshoppers to a child with a feeding disorder. These kids do not...

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"I Dread Mealtimes" - Parent Mental Health and Feeding Disorders

 

Fear - “I dread mealtimes with my child.”

Guilt - “What did I do to my child to cause this?”

Frustration - “Sometimes I think I’m going to lose it.”

Loss - “This is not how I pictured parenthood.” 

 

Let’s talk about parental mental health and feeding disorders.

I have spent endless hours in my clients’ homes talking to parents about their children’s feeding issues. Naturally, I talk about about cups, self-feeding, textures, and mealtime strategies to encourage the development of healthy eating patterns. Yet in equal measure, I have spent hours at kitchen tables, on couches, and living room floors counselling parents about the incredibly emotional and painful side of having a child with a feeding disorder: the mental health part. The part that doesn’t get talked about much. The part that frequently brings exhausted parents to heaving sobs during our meetings.

I wear many hats in this...

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10 Tips: Reducing Mealtime Distractions

To Distract or Not to Distract? That is the Parent Question

Many of the children that I have worked with over the past 20+ years as feeding therapist require distractions in order to eat. Period. In many cases, these kids will not eat at all unless they are watching a device or playing with toys/books during feedings. These kids typically need distractions because they are anxious eaters or have sensory processing issues that make mealtimes a very unpleasant and difficult task. Parents often express guilt, remorse, and concern about their child’s need for distractions. Parents resort to distractions in order to “get the food in”, as they are in a place of genuine concern, because if they remove the distraction their child may not get enough calories to grow and thrive.

Here’s my position on using distractions:
  1. I would choose distractions over force-feeding any day of the week.
  2. Distractions, used appropriately, can allow an opportunity to introduce a new...
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Texture-Specific Food Ideas for Kids

Like many of you during this crazy-time, I have been adjusting to working from home and balancing full-time life with my hungry kids. The days can feel long, and sometimes the next meal is the most exciting event on the agenda. My teens seem to finish their last bite of food at dinner and ask, “What’s for dinner tomorrow night?”. Yikes...no pressure.

Historically, as a mom, I’ve never been a meal-planner…I’m not one of those organized people that plans a week of meals in advance. I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants chef, typically deciding on dinner based on what’s left in the fridge. This has changed significantly for me during this pandemic. Here’s why:

  1. I don’t want to go to the grocery store any more than absolutely necessary. Honestly, I find the social-distancing, mask-wearing grocery shopping experience to be very stressful. I always seem to be going down the aisles in the wrong direction.
  2. Many of us...
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