Mealtime is always a challenge for children with SPD. Our family is no exception. It seems like there are insurmountable hurdles at the dinner table, some of them seemingly “invisible” problems. And you would probably be right if you felt like this because for SPD kids, there are little things that turn into monumental mountains to climb. If you know some basics, dinner will become easier and easier. Here’s our checklist for mealtimes:
1. CHALLENGE: TOOLS & UTENSILS
SOLUTION: Fork or spoon? Check the weight & size of the utensils – plastic, metal, combination, baby size, big, little? Does your child know how to feed themselves or do they require additional help? SPD Kids often struggle with using utensils properly and sometimes require additional help at the dinner table. For example, “poking” food with a fork can be quite difficult for a child with SPD. They can also struggle with weights of objects from day to day and how to move them through space. At our home, we will often offer several different spoons or forks, depending on what kind of day we’re having.
2. CHALLENGE: FOOD TEMPERATURE
SOLUTION: My children are both incredibly sensitive to food temperature, particularly when serving a hot meal. One of my children will only eat her food lukewarm. The best thing I can suggest is to experiment. Does your child like their food hot or cold? Lukewarm or freezer cold? This is an easy one to fix. Once you find their preference, stick with it for mealtime offerings and you won’t go wrong.
3. CHALLENGE: TEXTURE
SOLUTION: I do find that this can be a frustrating battle sometimes. There are so many food textures and often times, we, like other SPD families, stumble into unseen obstacles with new foods, in particular. SPD kids tend not to like to experiment with new, unknown textures and food. Does your child like creamy, smooth textures? Crunchy? Firm or wiggly? Crispy skin or rubbery? Get to know your child’s likes and dislikes. When we try a new food texture, I tend towards bland flavors at first so that there aren’t too many new things going on with that particular dish. Let your child get to know the sensation in his mouth first before building on with flavor. For example, if you’re trying chunky mashed potatoes instead of creamy tonight, don’t add the onions and bacon on top of it. Too many sensations make for a bigger roadblock for SPD kids. Go slow and things will go better. If other members of your family like something with more pizazz, then add those flavor boosters to their servings and leave the rest.
4. CHALLENGE: FOODS “TOUCHING” (COMBINING)
SOLUTION: I’m going to be honest with you here. If you have a child with SPD, you’re probably going to say goodbye to the family casserole dish! Combining a lot of different textures, flavors and unidentifiable veggies into one big dish is a big no-no in our family kitchen. If they can’t identify what you’re cooking, dinner’s going to be a meltdown disaster. I’m just not willing to fight for my Mama’s Favorite Shepherd’s Pie that badly! I don’t know about you;) At our house, we strive for balance on the plate, but I’m a big fan of separating food groups, either on the plate or by way of separate food compartments – you can use Tupperware cups/bowls or Bento Boxes (love these!!!). No matter how you arrange it, I’m willing to bet that at some point, your child will tell you “no foods touching!” just like mine have.
5. CHALLENGE: SIPPY CUP LIDS or STRAW
SOLUTION: True story: My “Sensational-Miss” has been able to tell me if her sippy cup lid was in the dishwasher with a coffee mug of mine. She can smell the coffee on her lid! I have watched that same lid fly across my kitchen floor in total exasperation and then chaotic meltdown because “it’s just not right”. While I may not be able to fix the coffee smell problem, I can tell you that finding the appropriate lid for mealtimes is generally always an issue. Does your child prefer a bottle-top lid? An open sippy lid? A closed lid with a valve? How about an open cup with no sippy? A straw? This comes back to the tools we use and how they feel in the mouth. Find your child’s likes and dislikes, and be prepared that they DO change as your child grows and develops.
6. CHALLENGE: SMELLS
SOLUTION: Sometimes food that I’m preparing for my family doesn’t go over well because there is an off-putting smell at various stages of the meal. For example, cutting onions and garlic during food preparation can be a big one for SPD kids. I usually avoid this pitfall by sending the kids to go play in the backyard a while when I know I’m going to be chopping “stinky” veggies or if I have raw meat in the frying pan, as another example. It’s not unusual to hear a “helpful” little voice expressing her opinion on my cooking. Instead of taking it personally, I try to remember what it must be like to smell those smells on a much bigger scale than I can begin to imagine. I suppose if I were surrounded by buckets and buckets of chopped onions, I would not be a happy camper either!
7. CHALLENGE: NOISE
SOLUTION: It’s true, a lot of our kitchen gadgets make a lot of noise while preparing food. I LOVE my KitchenAid Mixmaster, but my daughter….gotta level with you, not so much! It makes a lot of noise and if I have to use it, she has to be sent from the room – no joke. The other thing that we have used as a solution are noise-muffling earphones. These are truly a God-send and it usually helps her sensitive ears a lot! There are some expensive types and styles, but if you watch, you can also find some cheaper versions that work just as well. The kind we use can be found at Outdoorsman Shops for Riflery and Hunting. I should clarify that noise-muffling and noise-cancelling are quite different. Find out which your child needs before you shop.
More on mealtime help in future posts…