The Importance of Mealtime Routine for Children with Feeding Difficulties

Introduction

Many children who have difficulty with feeding from a sensory standpoint have a fear of the unknown. A child may fear a type of food because it is an unknown or non-preferred color, texture, smell, flavor, or sight of food. Giving children an opportunity to know exactly what to expect during a mealtime through utilization of a mealtime routine can minimize the fear of the unknown in feeding.

Getting Started

For sensory feeders, start mealtime with hand washing using a plastic shoebox sized tub of warm water with dish soap. Let your child splash in the water, play with the bubbles, and wipe their hands on a paper towel or washcloth when they are finished.

Introducing Food

After this, begin by introducing a preferred food to your child.  Presenting a child with a preferred food helps them to know that they are in control and that they will always have a food present on their plate that they are comfortable with. Next, present a child with a non-preferred or sometimes-preferred food that they can choose whether they want on or off of their plate – again, re-emphasizing that the child is in control of the food being put into his body.

Modeling Positive Interactions

Utilize positive mealtime language during mealtimes and model your own comfort with different food items by touching, smelling, and talking about interactions with different food items. Get creative! Turn your carrot sticks into cars and make them drive around a plate or up your own arm like a race track. Show your child how you can make bite marks in your food without actually taking a bite.

End of Mealtime

When it is time to finish eating, take turns placing one item of food into a designated “bye-bye bowl” at a time. Encourage interactions with food at the level where the child has demonstrated the most comfort. For example, if they take a bite of applesauce, have them take a bite of applesauce and place their spoon in the bowl. If they only tolerate touching a cracker, have them break it in half and place it in the bowl. Some families find that a reward at the end of mealtimes can also be a helpful incentive. Try giving a sticker, blowing bubbles, or playing with special toys designated specifically for post-mealtime play.

Summary

            The creation of a mealtime routine can revolutionize the way that your child interacts with food. Mealtime routines can also help children to be able to interact in a more comfortable way with both preferred and non-preferred foods by helping them understand the clear expectations of positive interactions with foods by utilizing verbal and visual models. 

-Laura C. Kinney, M.S. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **