To eat, or not to eat, that is the question

“I don’t want that!” “Ewww, that is gross! “I just want to eat my food!

Many children these days are constantly testing parents as to what they will and will not

eat. Many parents may find themselves making two to three dinners a night just so their children “do not starve”. In many cases, the children may be picky, or just prefer their own food ( imagine as an adult getting to eat ice cream and cookies for dinner every night).

But what if the child truly does have a feeding disorder? One sign that your children may not just be” picky” is they may not be able to tolerate foods in specific texture or consistencies (foods that are very mushy, very crunchy, etc…). When children are given this type of food, they might outright refuse, start immediately gagging, attempting to throw up, or the food just sits in the mouth while they try and spit it out.

In these cases, it is important to teach the child how to safely and comfortably interact (play) with their food, before they can be expected to eat their food. Sounds crazy right? However, once a child feels “safe” with their food , they are much more willing to learn about the food (what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like on their fingers, hands, chin, lips, etc… and eventually what it feels like in their mouths! Allowing and encouraging these exploratory sensory steps to eating leads to children feeling more in control, which increases their comfort level with trying new foods. Exposures or “tries” of the new foods over time will allow for you and your child to increase their own food repertoire, as opposed to fighting you to try new foods on a daily basis.

For picky eaters, be sure to celebrate and reinforce any and all steps to eating without pushing the child to “just try it” as this may create anxiety for the picky eater and make it less likely they will try it again. For some anxious eaters however, a nonchalant approach is better than throwing a big celebration and bringing attention to their food trying as this may cause the child to feel more pressure about food trying experiences. Accept any advancements in food trying or food exploration as a huge success until the next opportunity or exposure to that new food. Hopefully with time, your child will successfully advance to the point where they are ready to take a bite of the new food!

For problem eaters and those unable to advance themselves through the steps to eating, the therapists at SpeechTherapyForAll are trained to help your child overcome their fear of eating, as well as help parents implement a safe, fun, learning experience that will decrease stressful family meals at the dinner table and increase your child’s food repertoire in order to support their overall growth, health and nutrition.

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