I am sure you have heard the "just hold out and he will eat when he is hungry" advice. But for your sensory child, eating and all that goes with it are a field of land mines. Normal kids have normal hunger and satiety feelings and responses. Unfortunately, any parent of a sensory kid knows..there is nothing normal about life with a sensory child!
So this blog will be dedicated to some helpful advice on dining. In and out of the home.
First, let me say that many things go into the eating process which your (and my) child is ill equipped to do. Biting chewing and swallowing takes over 26 different muscles, and if your child has motor planning problems, this is an incredibly difficult task. The child may take tiny bites, or over-stuff his mouth (my sons' problem) because he cannot feel the food in it. Food and saliva sometimes collect between gum and lips, causing gum disease and crooked teeth.
The following is a common diet for a sensory child.
dry cereal and juice for breakfast
crackers grapes for lunch
peanut butter sandwich for dinner
there is a milk version that includes many milk foods, mac and cheese, cereal and milk, bagel cream cheese and juice.
Obviously neither diet nutritionally sufficient for growing brains or bodies. ( This will be 3-4 part blog series on eating, so read on! )
If your child has the following problems, you need professional help from a PT or OT (physical therapist/occupational therapist) trained in sensory stimulation and sensory processing.
not gaining weigh properly
cant join the family in regular activities unless specially accommodated with eating.
looks pale or unhealthy
frequently sick with a runny nose or cough
chronically moody/temper tantrums about food
eats mostly pasta cereal or crackers for dinner
frequent gastrointestinal problems...constipation, diarrhea
There are things a parent can do to help a child's nutritional choices and his nutrition. With-holding food that the child will eat for things he wont (he'll eat whats' served or nothing) is dangerous, as it can cause all sorts of health problems. So don't listen to friends' advice or your mothers'....about how to get him to eat. It won't work and it will make him sick. So what is a mom or dad to do? Here are some tips.
1. One new food at a time. ONE. to increase familiarity. If it is on his plate several times a week then he may get curious.
2. One bite. Just one..let her spit it in a napkin if she hates it.
3. Praise and reward for licking food. Yes just licking.
4. make a picture collage of the food they hate. (have them cut out the pics and glue on!) talk about the food in a happy way.
5. then have the child eat in a room with the food in sight. then on a dish close to him, then on his plate. then have the child touch with her finger, tongue, etc.
6. Buy 'jelly belly' beans in different flavors. Try one a time. have him identify the flavor. Make it a game. make it fun.
7. Condiments are your friend. use ketchup, Parmesan cheese, yogurt, mustard, soy sauce. Have him experiment with what he would like to try.
8. Fresh fruit usually tastes better and has a better texture than canned. Bananas are high sugar, and many sensory kids cannot bear the texture. So don't force bananas. Serve fruit cold or frozen to wake up the palette.
9. Vary the temperature. See if he or she prefers her food lukewarm cold or hot. then serve it that way.
10. Make a smoothie from fresh fruit, ice, milk and vanilla frozen yogurt. (frozen strawberries work great in this) Throw in some protein powder in a vanilla or chocolate flavor (one or one/half scoop). Make it thick and give him a straw to suck it through. The sucking is calming and the smoothie tastes like dessert....only you know it isn't. This is a great choice for a snack or if your child is not a breakfast eater.
11. V-8 makes a juice that tastes GREAT and is made from veggies and fruits. There are several flavors, try them all to see which one your child likes best. One serving of fruit and vegetable per 8 oz glass.
12. Avoid drinking milk, juice and sugary drinks between meals as it will kill their appetite. Too much during meals can also restrict what they eat (we have discovered that water is the best!)
13. If your child refuses water....make a spritzer. Put an ounce of cranberry juice in a big glass of water. Name it something fun...like "Kids' kooler" Tell them that it is just for kids. Try seltzer....my son loves the fizz...you can put juice in it as well.
you can also infuse water with pineapple or orange slices, lemon or lime. try different flavors until one hits right.
14. Let your child make a specific food list of things he will not be forced to eat. Make sure to stick to the list. My child has potatoes, salmon (although he will eat salmon croquettes with plenty of ketchup) Brussel sprouts and broccoli on his list. I never force those foods on him.
My next blog will deal with those that have tried all the above and are still having issues eating.
Dont give up! keep trying. You will adapt and so will they.