“How do I get my child to eat more and different foods?” “My child refuses to eat anything healthy.” “Mealtimes are such a struggle!” These are statements and questions speech-language pathologists hear frequently by justifiably concerned parents during evaluations and treatment. Some of the hardest times of the day are mealtimes for families with picky eater children. And with the holidays approaching, often our family gatherings are focused on this topic: food. While mealtimes can seem like an unending battle, there are evidence-based approaches that can help reduce the struggle, foster a positive experience during meal times, and ultimately increase the tolerance, exploration, and consumption of foods by even the most challenging eaters. This blog highlights an approach to feeding that can help you navigate your picky eater and give you some tips to try this Thanksgiving.
Often parents believe that forcing the child to eat, rewarding a child with a tasty dessert, or waiting until they are ultimately “so hungry” are successful strategies in getting their children to eat their fruits and vegetables; however, ultimately this leads to a negative, stressful, and unsuccessful relationship with food for children who have aversions or a limited food repertoire. Evidence has shown that following the Sequential Oral Sensory (S.O.S.) Approach to Feeding has promoted increased acceptance and consumption of foods that children may otherwise deny or refuse. Developed by Dr. Kay Toomey, this approach focuses on the child as a whole, meaning the child’s sensory processing, oral-motor skills, and behavioral profile are all considered. Due to this multidisciplinary approach, you may find that your child can be working on feeding across professional disciplines, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or board-certified behavior analysts.
The program begins with simple, playful, and low-pressure interaction with the food, from tolerating the food at the table to moving from touching, kissing, licking, tasting, and eventually consuming the food. How can you implement this at home, or better yet, at the Thanksgiving dinner table? The loud, bustling holiday mealtime may already be daunting to a child with sensory processing difficulties, so creating an environment that promotes a successful and enjoyable mealtime, without the added pressure and forceful feeding, is crucial.