Today I walked into a coffee shop, and Christmas music was already playing! I like to take it one holiday at a time, and this month the focus is on Thanksgiving. For my family, that means we spend time with each other, and cook and eat lots and lots of delicious food. I recently tried a new mac and cheese recipe for this year that was fantastic! As someone who enjoys trying new foods, Thanksgiving is a fun and exciting holiday for me. For many of my clients and others, that is not the case. Feeding difficulties can majorly impact the enjoyment of sitting down at the dinner table. Take a peek at some of these general feeding guidelines. As always, consult your occupational therapist with specific questions in regards to your child.
General Feeding Tips:
- Look at how your child is positioned at the table. Are their legs supported? Can they easily reach the table? If not, see if you can support them to get their ankles/knees/hips positioned to 90*.
- What distractions are present at mealtime? Set the vibe! Turn off the TV, play quiet music, or gentle white noise. Are they seated right by the buffet of food? The smells may be overwhelming! Find a spot away from the noise/sights/smells.
- Practice! If your child only ever sees turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans on Thanksgiving, they will not have had the opportunity to explore or trial these new items. Try presenting turkey lunch meat and reminding them that it is similar to the turkey on Thanksgiving!
- Set the ground work for success: My favorite way to encourage new foods is by presenting everything out on the table or placing everything on every plate. Do not place pressure to try the new or non-preferred items on the plate or table. Step one is just tolerating the items being present in their space.
- Once your child can tolerate these foods nearby, start to ask questions. Is that food soft or hard? Is this one sweet or salty? Remember, as soon as we ask “do you like this food” that leaves your child with the option to say “no”, and it is really hard to come back from that! I like to skip over the name of certain foods with negative connotations. Today, this food isn’t “broccoli” it is the green food!
- Set time outside of mealtimes to explore and play with foods! Messy play with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, or mac and cheese can encourage exploration without the pressure of mealtime. You may be surprised at what your child will try (and like!) Demonstrate to your child how you would smell/lick/kiss the food, etc. Adding in toys to the messy play is a great way to practice feeding a toy or object.
- Do not get discouraged if your child tries a new food and visibly dislikes it at first. It can take many, many times of trying a new food before our sensory systems decide it is something we like! Continue to explore by asking questions about the food’s characteristics.
- Have fun!