Sensory Based Food Progression Home Program
A lot of children are picky eaters. Picky eaters are selective in what they will eat. The problem occurs when the “picky eating” behavior progresses and the variety of foods they eat diminishes. They tend to only eat one or two foods over and over. Then one day, they decide that they do not want to eat that food anymore. The problem is, that they do not add new foods to their diet. These kids often have an underlying problem such as sensory issues, oral aversion, reflux, or oral motor delays that contribute to their feeding difficulties and limited diet. Occupational or speech therapy is recommended for most children with this type of feeding difficulty. However there are some strategies that you can work on at home. Keep in mind, these strategies are not in place of medical advice or treatment. Not all strategies are appropriate for all children.
Tips and Strategies
Know your child’s AROUSAL state! Is your child “too high”, “too low”, or “just right”? If you are at either extreme, your child will not be as successful as when they are “just right”. Use sensory diet activities to help with bringing your child “up” or “down”.
When starting a behavioral feeding program, it is important that children be offered foods that they are already regularly eating and successful with during structured “meals”. Try introducing new foods during a “therapeutic snack” which would be around a normal snack time. Ideally, there should be minimal or no distractions, and if possible, around the same time every day to help with establishing a routine.
What is the first thing that you do when you see a food and you decide if you want to eat it? You look at it! What is the next thing you might touch it, and then you smell it! If you do not like what a food looks like, feels like, or smells like you are PROBABLY not going to eat it? RIGHT? Why should we expect more from our kids?
One of the best ways to help kids overcome their anxiety with food is to take them through the FOOD PROGRESSION.
- LOOK AT IT: Have your child look at the food. They need to tolerate it being on their plate. Ask them what it looks like. What do they think it feels like (without touching it). Does it look crunchy, smooth, or soft? Talking about FOOD properties helps to eliminate anxiety with eating!
- TOUCH IT: Have your child touch the food! Touch it with fingers, explore with hands. If your child does not like the feel of a food in their hands, they are probably not going to eat it! Your child may need to stay in this step for awhile and that is OK! If your child will not touch a food, provide some deep pressure…high five the food! Smack the table on the food with his or her hands! Interaction with foods helps to eliminate anxiety! A lot of the anxiety steps from NOT knowing what the food is going to feel like! When you make it a game, you help eliminate the anxiety!
- SMELL IT! Smell is a POWERFUL sensation! It can eliminate strong emotional responses! Pleasant smells of food can actually be very calming! (this is why essential oils are so calming and why I use them with my children!) Smells can elicit memories as well! This is why when you walk into a candy store, you might sigh, “ahhhh this reminds me of grandma’s house!). So smelling the food helps to create POSITIVE experiences and memories of food and can help to elicit calming emotional responses. Keep in mind, some foods smells are alerting, and some are calming (i.e. vanilla and citrus smells are calming and alerting; minty smells are stimulating and can wake up the sensory system, but can be too much in a child is “too high!”.
- KISS IT! Kids like to blow kisses! Ask them to Kiss the food! They DON’T have to EAT it, but encourage to bring to touch their lips!!! This is a GREAT way to get the new food close to their mouth! It allows your child to “taste” the food without the anxiety of having to put it in their mouth! And MOST of the time, after a few times of “kissing” the food, they automatically go to eating on their own!
- LICK IT! This is another step closer to getting them to put it in their mouth! Most of the time when kids will lick it, they realize they like the flavor and want to try a bite! If they don’t its OK, but it is a step closer to getting them to try tastes and flavors of food, wake up their mouths, and decrease anxiety related to eating!
You can stay in any of these steps as long as you need to! You may move forward with some foods and need to go back with others and THAT IS OK!!!! But using these steps helps give your child CONTROL over eating KNOWING that they do NOT have to EAT a particular food!!!! Starting with these steps, you will help your child use his or her senses to overcome ANXIETY with eating. Good Luck!