Today's topic I am sure we are all familiar with: getting your child to eat new or different foods. As a parent to a picky toddler, I get to deal with this every day as well. Luckily I got to attend a presentation by a feeding therapist at Autism One, and while many of the techniques were things that I already do in Son-Rise playrooms, it was nice to hear that the experts agree, and that they have a few more tricks up their sleeves. So here are some tips to get your child to eat!
First of all, TRUST is the most important thing to get a child to eat new foods!!!!! Never force your child to eat anything because you are undermining your own relationship with your child, as well as teaching your child that eating new foods is not fun or something they have control over. Instead always make eating enjoyable and fun, and model how much you love eating yourself! As the parent, caregiver, or volunteer you control what, where, and when the child eats (obviously this is because you are giving them the food). Your child gets to control how much and whether he eats. If you can introduce the foods in the playroom this would be best, as your child already knows they have control, plus its a place you already get messy in. Otherwise make sure you are in a place that is easy to clean or make it easier to clean (e.g. put a plastic covering under your child's chair.)
Then, make eating fun!!!! So many people (my husband included) are afraid of making messes with food or think "you shouldn't play with your food." Yeah....this is good for adults or people who already like the food, however for picky eaters (and I learned that typically 30-50% of children are picky eaters, but 50-90% of autistic children are picky eaters,) playing with your food is key to eventually eating the food! The more your child interacts with the food in any way (touching, smelling, tasting and spitting, rubbing, squishing...you get my drift) the more they will tolerate and like it long term. So make your new mantra "messy is marvelous" when it comes to new food!
I remember one playroom session with a 16 year old girl who barely ate anything besides chips. I had a lunch session and we brought in all sorts of fruits and vegetables, in most other sessions people had offered her food in a fun way, but it was all at the table one piece at a time. This day I brought in some different sized bowls and we sat on the floor with the food. I encouraged her to make a fruit salad with me. We started putting the fruit in, and she started squishing it between her fingers (this was more interaction then she had with fruit all week so I was jazzed), we squished and sang about our food, and had so much fun making a mess. Before I knew it she had scooped up a glob of our fruit soup and taken a bite, and then another and then another!!!! Because I wasn't afraid to get down and dirty she had fun eating new foods with me.
I'm realizing I have soo much information on this so watch out for more tips in my future blogs, but realize that kids may need to be exposed 30 times to the new food before they like it, so if at first you don't succeed, try and try and try and try and try again!
Happy Eating! Best wishes until next time,