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25 Sensory Play Ideas to Help with Picky Eating

This week's blog completes a 3-part series on sensory issues and feeding. Part 1 explained sensory issues and how and why they impact feeding. Part 2 provided tips to help reduce sensory overload during mealtimes.

Here are some fun, play-based sensory activities to help your child become more comfortable with new foods. Remember that kids learn about new foods through repeated exposure, food play, and sensory exploration. It's important not to pressure your child to eat/try the foods during sensory play...just model your own enjoyment of the foods and have fun learning about new foods through sight, smell, touch, and sound. The tasting part will come with time, practice, and patience.

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Are you doing this? Do This Instead! Sensory Issues and Feeding – Part 2

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.


Tip 1 - Calm The Kitchen

Are you doing this?

 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.

Do this instead! 

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...

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Sensory Issues and Feeding Simplified

Does your child have sensory issues?

I always ask this question as part of my intake questionnaire when conducting a feeding assessment. Immediately after saying it, I try to provide parents with an explanation, because in my opinion it’s a very confusing question.

What are sensory issues?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complex neurological disorder that affects the way sensations are experienced and processed. SPD exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses and, as a result, a child’s daily routine and activities are disrupted (Miller 2006).

Here’s the way I explain it to parents…

We use our senses to take-in information about the world around us. This includes our well-known five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Did you know there are also three other “hidden” senses, that most of us aren’t familiar with: proprioception (receptors in our joints, muscles, and bones that give us...

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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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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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Family Meals: Who, What, Where, When, & Why

Come Together

Growing-up, my family always ate meals together. Truth be told, mealtimes were pretty stressful in my house, as my parents were very strict about table manners. Nevertheless, it was a time where I remember coming together, sharing food, and communicating. Looking back, some of the things my parents did were not in-line with what I would recommend as a Feeding Therapist. We were expected to always finish our plates and we were forced to eat foods that we didn’t like. My parents were doing their best, but now, through research, we know better. Studies have demonstrated that kids eat and grow better when they decide how much to eat and follow their own hunger and satiety cues. We also know that forcing or bribing kids to eat foods they don’t like doesn’t work; it actually reduces their willingness to eat the food. As an adult, I avoid most of the foods that I was forced to eat as a child (e.g. kidney beans…ewwww!) Pushing kids to eat or...

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The Struggle is Real: 14 Tips to Tackle Mealtime Power Struggles

A mealtime is meant to be a positive experience; a time to take a break, come together, share our culture, and communicate. Mealtimes and food are about giving and receiving love. We show our love through food. It is central to our lives. We celebrate with food and bring food when someone is grieving or in need. When a child has feeding issues, mealtimes can become a source of stress and frustration for parents. Often parents tell me that they dread mealtimes with their child. They describe dramatic and lengthy meals along with exhausting power struggles over food intake.

Ongoing mealtime power struggles can actually contribute to picky eating and food refusal. Pressuring kids to eat is often unintentional, but it can lead to reducing a child’s likelihood to eat. Successful mealtimes are built on trust. If a child feels stressed and anxious at mealtimes, they may want to feel like they have some control…and this often comes in the form of food refusal. Your child may...

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