During the first years of life, our children rely on us for critical nutrients needed for healthy development. For various reasons, if a child is not consuming enough nutrient rich calories, parents may begin to feel panicked that they are not able to meet their child’s basic needs. Can you imagine the desperation a parent may feel thinking they are unable to provide for their child?
Your child’s health and well-being is dependent on their ability to nourish their mind and body with a calorically dense and nutrient rich diet. There are many factors that can influence a child’s ability and willingness to eat and drink a variety of foods.
Fortunately, there are a range of feeding approaches that can be utilized to help your child overcome feeding difficulties. Professional feeding therapy is not always necessary to support your child’s eating habits. However, there are situations where early intervention with a feeding therapist is recommended to provide you support.
Here are some tips to improve mealtime behaviors and increase acceptance of new foods:
1. Parent provides, kids decide:
Many toddlers desperately try to express themselves and their desires, while testing limits. Mealtime is no different. Parent and child roles related to eating are well defined. Parents decide what, when, and where to eat. Children decide how much to eat or whether to eat at all.
You control what foods your child has access to for meals and snacks. Your role is to provide a variety of healthy foods. Consider offering new foods with old favorites. If a new food is refused, don’t be concerned. Children need to try a new food 10 to 15 times before they determine whether or not they like it.
Let your child choose from the foods offered. Your job is done when you select and prepare the food. Relax if she eats only a few of the foods served. If your child is growing well and full of energy, don’t worry about how much she is eating. Expect your child’s appetite to vary from day to day. Some days your child may not eat at all or eat only a bite or two of a few foods. On other days, she will eat everything served. Trust your child to eat. Continue offering a variety of healthy foods, and she will eat when she is hungry.
2. Involve your child in food preparation:
Try to have your child involved with the food preparation, even if it is just taking his or her bowl to the counter for you to fill it. This approach will increase your child’s interaction with you and their food, and may result in him or her more willing to try it.
Interaction with non-preferred foods, during meals as well as preparation and cleanup, provides opportunities to interact with foods in a non-threating way. Continued exposure to new foods, when there is no expectation of them to eat it, builds comfort without the anxiety mealtime exposure can induce.
3. Avoid Overstimulation:
If a child starts to grimace, gag, or turn away from a certain type of food, consider moving on to another food option presented in the meal. Rather than force the child to finish whatever he or she was eating, or preparing a completely different meal specifically for them – have several nutritious options available from which to choose.
These behaviors are signs that a child is becoming overstimulated and attempting to force the child to eat will likely make mealtime behaviors worse. When a child shows signs of being distressed over a provided food, it is unlikely that force feeding or bribing with treats will result in long-term acquisition of the food item. Being flexible and offering your child a variety of acceptable food choices can be more effective.
In some cases, parents need help from a therapist to support the feeding development of their child. It can be challenging to know if your child is simply a picky eater or could be a problem feeder and requires therapy. The following charts outline feeding development milestones and red flag considerations.
Jeanine Roddy, M.A., CCC-SLP
Frisco Feeding & Speech Therapy
We have worked with a range of clients from infancy to young adults striving to achieve their full potential. Every child is different and every solution is a personalized treatment program based on a thorough speech & feeding evaluation.