Feeding Strategies for Sensory Sensitive Eaters
Feeding is a complex task that requires every sense we use for every meal. We often don’t realize we are using all of our senses with this ordinary task. Let’s take pizza as an example. We often comment on the smell of a warm pizza once it has exited the oven or been picked up for delivery (olfactory). We then proceed to look at it to see if it is burnt and or if all the toppings are present (vision). Then we proceed to pick up the perfect piece to bring to our mouth, feeling if it is firm or soggy in our hands (tactile). Next, we bring the pizza up and give it a taste to make sure it tastes as good as it smells (oral). Lastly, we take a bite and hear that awesome crunch with the crust (auditory). We have experienced 5 senses just in that one bite of pizza. Now let’s backtrack and enter in a child that has sensory sensitivities with 1 or more senses — this process can be super challenging to navigate effectively! We have found the following 4 interventions to assist with sensory sensitivities when it comes to feeding.
Creating a sensory bin can assist with tactile sensitivities. Sensory bins can be made out of common dry foods such as rice, pasta, pretzels, beans, or any other ingredient you have on hand. Providing toys in the sensory bins can allow the child to engage with the new texture/food in a positive and more inviting way. You can also use kinetic sand, water beads, and slime to simulate wet/sticky foods that a child may have challenges with or avoid. Using sensory bins allows the child to work on that food or texture with all 5 senses in a playful manner. Don’t be afraid to get messy, it helps expose your child to these new foods through play. Stores such as Walmart, Target. and Michaels are beginning to sell them as a package already put together!
I have found that incorporating toys during feeding can allow children to feel more comfortable and be more willing to participate in the meal. Games such as Pop the Pig and Banana Blast both incorporate food and allow turn-taking. This gives the child time to try a bite or progress with touching, kissing, or licking a new food. Using a game with new or non-preferred foods can decrease sensitivity and increase motivation.
Eating dinner and or meals together can allow the child to observe and see other people engage in the new food. Having an older sibling, friend or parent partake in the new food can be helpful to decrease sensitivity. Even having a stuffed animal or toy to pretend feed the animal can assist with increasing flexibility. When they see their friend is trying their food, they’ll want to try too!
Having the child be a part of preparing the meal can decrease sensitives and increase flexibility with wanting to try a new food. It can be as simple as having them pick out food at the store, stirring a pot, helping set the table, or assisting with putting together ingredients. It helps make cooking fun, promotes family time, and can increase comfort with new foods from being part of the process.
Most importantly, remember that mealtime should be relaxing and fun! Pick 1 meal a week to incorporate change to create a good habit. Not every meal has to have a new food. Play is important for every aspect of a child’s life. If you have any questions or concerns with your child’s development, give us a call at TEAM 4 Kids.
Sarah Brechenser M.S. OTR/L