Last week’s blog aimed to provide some insight into sensory issues and simplify a somewhat confusing question: “Does your child have sensory issues?”. If the answer is “yes” or even “maybe”, then this week’s blog is for you!
Let’s jump right into 13 bite-sized tips to help your sensory-kiddo with feeding.
❌ Mealtimes are busy in your household. The kitchen is bustling with people. You are cooking. It’s loud. The lights are bright. Dinner is suddenly “READY!!” You bring your child quickly to the table.
✅ Kids with sensory issues may find mealtimes overwhelming. The noise, the smells, the bright lights, the talking. Try reducing the chaos. Put on some chilled music, dim the lights, and talk in a calm voice. Warn your child ahead of time that it will be dinner soon, so they are not startled when transitioning from a favourite activity like playing.
❌ Your child's feet are dangling at mealtimes and he/she is frequently leaning to the side or trying to self-stabilize in the high chair.
✅ Kids with sensory issuses eat better during meals when their feet are supported and they have good postural stability. Look for a way to support your child's feet so they are resting flat at 90 degrees.
❌ Presenting your child with several new foods all at once.
✅ Offer 75% of the plate with familiar foods that you know your child is able to eat and only 25% of the plate with a new food that you would like your child to learn to eat. Only offer 1-2 new foods.
❌ Presenting new foods that don’t match your child’s sensory preferences. For example, offering cooked white potatoes when your child likes crunchy orange foods.
✅ Try expanding your child’s diet, by offering foods that are similar to your child’s sensory preferences. For example, offer thin sticks of raw carrot if you child likes crunchy orange foods. If you child likes dry foods, try offering freeze-dried fruits as an alternative to fresh wet fruits.
❌ Keeping your child clean and tidy and telling your child not to play with their food.
✅ Allow your child to explore food with all of their senses. Touching and squishing foods helps your child to learn to eat! Mess is best! If you child is resistant to touching sticky, wet foods try some sensory-based play activities outside of mealtimes (e.g., Play-Doh, sand play, textured books). You can also can teach your child to clean his/her own hands during meals or help wipe-off he food residue if he/she is too distressed by the mess.
❌ Pushing your child to “try” a bite of a new food you have offered.
✅ Encourage your child to look, touch, smell, kiss, and lick new foods. This will help with picky eating. Try engaging your child’s other senses instead of insisting that they take a bite of a new food.
❌ Serving large portions.
✅ To reduce visual overload, give your child just a small portion at meals. You can always offer more if they finish their plate. Large portions can be overwhelming…even for adults.
❌ Giving up on offering a new food after your child refuses a few times; only presenting food that you know your child will eat.
✅ Don’t give up! Accepting new foods takes time and repeated exposure. Keep offering new foods so your child has many opportunities to learn about it over time.
❌ Offering very warm or hot foods.
✅ Let the food cool-off for a while before presenting the dish. This will reduce the smell coming from the steam and will reduce sensory overload if your child is sensitive to temperature.
❌ Getting into mealtime power struggles.
✅ If your child feels stressed at mealtimes, the sensory load will increase, and he/she will be less likely to explore a new food. If you child refuses new foods, keep your responses calm and neutral. Model your own enjoyment of foods.
❌ Over-selling food to your child by saying “It’s so delicious!”
✅ Talk about the properties of the food: the colour, shape, size, texture, and how it behaves in YOUR mouth “It makes a crunch when I bite it.”
❌ Always feeding your child to avoid mess and determine how much he/she ate.
✅ Foster independence and encourage your child to feed him/herself. Self-feeding allows kids to feel like the have control at mealtimes and reduces sensory overload. It allows them to learn with their senses by interacting with their food.
❌ Forcing your child to brush his/her teeth.
✅ Stop forcing toothbrushing, as this will contribute to a fear of things going into your child's mouth. Tolerating toothbrushing goes hand-in-hand with feeding. See my blog about toothbrushing for tips to help reduce forcing and make toothbrushing a more positive experience.
A few changes can make a world of difference for kids with sensory processing issues. You don't have to tackle everything all at once; try choosing a couple of tips from the list above and observe if this helps to reduce your little one's sensory load at mealtimes.