Do you find mealtimes stressful?
Are you preparing the same meals every meal for your child?
Are there meltdowns and tears when you try and put a new food on their plate?
Eating is as complex task that requires all the organs, muscles and senses in the body to work at the same time. It is not as simple as putting food down in front of you and eating it. It involves 32 steps, starting at being in the same room as the food, tolerating food on your plate and interacting with food using a range of you body parts before the food even enters the mouth to be able to chew and swallow. Kids can get stuck at any one of these steps and that is when the challenging behaviours come out. These behaviours of refusal, crying and pushing food away are super frustrating and can leave you tearing out your hair. These behaviours are coming out because the child does not have the skills needed to eat. It is their way of avoiding eating as the task is too hard for them. Our aim is to help to reduce the stress surrounding mealtimes and to help your picky eater want to try new foods, making mealtimes more enjoyable for all.
Here are a few tips to try:
- Make food and eating fun. As food has unintentionally become a stressful situation for all, we want to reshape the activity to be fun and motivating. This is where we get to be messy and have fun interacting with food at all levels. Use some of your child’s favourite toys to play with the food or follow your child’s lead. The aim is to just have fun.
- Keep the conversation at the table positive. Try and keep the focus of the meal on the food and not on what your child is eating. You may need to comment on what you as the parent are doing with your food and model to your child good eating. This also helps take the focus off your child and solely on the food.
- Offer at least one food that your child will eat with every meal. Having one familiar food that they like on their plate will give them a place to start eating. It will allow them to stay calmer when at the table and to eat with the family. Make sure you are regularly exposing your child to new and previously refused foods as well.
- Have your child become a member of the cooking, shopping and meal planning team. If they participate in meal planning and preparation, they are regularly interacting with a variety of foods. This will help spark curiosity around a range of foods. They may not necessarily eat this range of food straight away but it will assist them to be more engaged in the whole process.
- Focus on food at eating time. Get rid of the distractions! Turn off the TV, put your phone on silent, leave the iPad in another room and don’t answer the phone. Talk about your day, talk about the food and enjoy spending time together at meal times. After 20 minutes the meal is over and use a cue such as “pack away time” to assist your child to transition away from the meal.
- Eat at the table as a family for at least one meal a day. Kids learn best by mirroring actions, so they need to see you eat, they need to eat with you, they need to see you try new foods, they need to see how you deal with food you don’t like. Serve the food using a family style serving where every member of the family is served a small portion of each food on the table. If your child is old enough let them serve themselves. They can decide how much of each food they want, but must take some of each food offered, even if it is just to stay on their plate and to talk about the food.
- 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Limiting grazing and snacking between meals will assist with your child’s appetite stimulation and make them more likely to eat more food at meal times. Space meals (including snacks) 2-2.5 hours apart with offering water between meals allows for optimal appetite.
Mealtime can be stressful especially if your child is a picky eater, so taking away the stress of mealtime is our first goal. A book by Ellyn Satter “How to Get Your Child to Eat But Not too Much” is a great resource for parents of children who are fussy eaters.
How we can help:
We offer comprehensive multidisciplinary feeding therapy assessments and individual intervention sessions based off Kay Toomey’s Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding.
What to expect:
Our assessments are a 45 minute face to face session in the clinic where we work with yourself and your child to assess the oral motor and sensory skills that may be impacting your child’s ability to successfully and independently engage.
This information gathered from the assessment will then be used to collaboratively develop therapeutic goals and an intervention plan to assist your child achieve their feeding goals in regularly intensive individual feeding sessions with one of our multidisciplinary feeding therapists.
For more information please contact our reception team!