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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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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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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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3 Benefits of Cooking with Kids

3 Benefits of Cooking with Kids

  1. Cooking with kids can help to build a positive relationship with food and may reduce picky eating, as it gives your child an opportunity to learn about new foods through their senses. Kids learn to eat by looking, touching, smelling, and eventually tasting when they are ready.
  2. Cooking with your child provides an opportunity to connect, hang-out together, talk, and laugh. It’s a chance to bond, have fun, and share culture.
  3. Language and learning opportunities are plentiful during cooking. Cooking involves language, literacy, math, and science. It’s a fun way to work on counting, naming, sorting, and learning to follow directions. Cooking provides so many teachable moments and can help with cognitive and fine-motor development.

3 Rules (ok..ok…Guidelines) when Cooking with Kids

  1. Have fun and try not to stress. The goal isn’t to prepare a perfect meal...the goal is to learn about food together. You could even create your own new...
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Seriously? Play with your food? Yes! Absolutely! Play with your food!

As a child, my parents used to tell me NOT to play with my food…well, times have changed.  

Playing with food is good for kids…especially kids with sensory issues and those that are picky eaters. Kids learn about foods and move toward food acceptance by exploring foods with all of their senses. Eating is a very sensory experience and we take in information from all of our senses during mealtimes. Kids learn through play. We use play-based learning to teach kids their numbers, colours, and letters; however, when it comes to food, we tend to be more serious with messages like, “Don’t play with your food.”

Food play offers an opportunity for kids to explore and learn about foods, without any pressure to “eat” or “try” the foods.  Children learn through looking, touching, smelling, and squishing. Over time they become more comfortable interacting with the foods and may eventually start eating them when they are ready.

As...

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