My youngest has had some major struggles with food aversions. She refuses to try most healthy food, seemingly for its presentation: the way it looks, how it was handled or what it smells like. She smells everything regardless.
For example, when its snack time, most moms crack a banana, hand it to their child and they gobble it up in 2 seconds flat.
As parents to an SPD kiddo, we actually have to think differently, come up with a different plan and be creative. Presentation is everything in order to just “get” to the challenge of trying a new fruit or vegetable…in order to get to successfully eat that banana. For every step, there are multiple smaller steps that can feel like hurdles. With practice, we get better at figuring out how to offer food in such a way that SPD kids may try it.
Checklist for Success:
1. Offer a tool
In the example of eating a banana, try offering that same banana peeled (to avoid having to touch something sticky), cut up in manageable bite-size pieces (to avoid choking, for inspection: no “yucky”-looking brown spots, offered in a small container (to help with fine-motor/gross motor help without chasing the banana on a flat surface like a plate), with a fork (to avoid touching it).
2. Invite your Child to participate or watch you prepare Food
Some kids who are particularly fussy with food and trying new things, are intimidated by the process. I have found that my youngest loves to cook and bake with me. She wants to see just how things are made, what’s in them and can “inspect” all food with a quality-controlled eye! She feels more confident to try things that she has helped to make. I offer her tools such as measuring cups and spoons so she doesn’t have to touch. I do all the messy parts she doesn’t like. This can be a very successful way to introduce a new food or meal.
3. Change the Texture
I knew my kids loved spaghetti, but there was no way they were going to eat chunky veggies thrown in for their health! I hid many a vegetable in a familiar smooth sauce by pureeing everything! If your child has accepted a particular texture, try adding veggies and fruits a little at a time in the same texture they’re used to. Go slow! They’ll notice if things go too fast. You can do the same with homemade Popsicles…puréed fruit is a great addition that sometimes, will only be accepted…with a tool (the Popsicle stick) and frozen (so it’s crunchy).
4. Let them Play!
Try toothpicks for poking meatballs or make raw veggie stick men. Yes, it’s ok to let them play with their food! In fact, please encourage this in your sensory-kiddo. This is important for their development to experiment with food and to feel what it’s like. And let me just say, I have known many a sensory kiddo who has tried a new food because there was a toothpick!
5. Bento Boxes
This is a great tool. I love these, my kids think they’re genius! It’s the same as when you’ve heard your Sensational-Miss protest “No foods touching!” Separate foods into their own space. Do not try food combining or touching until they are more familiar with it.
Other items to consider…
6. Temperature of her food. Simple fix.
7. Where is she eating? At the dinner table? (Which can be problematic). My squirmy-wormy hates the dinner table and instead, prefers a TV tray where she can watch her favorite cartoon and somewhat forget some of the problems associated with eating. Occasionally, we’ve had such a difficult day, I’m ok with indulging this. The other thing that TV can do is help your Picky-Pants sit still. My youngest cannot stop moving until she’s in front of a screen: iPad, TV, computer-whichever. This helps her calm. This may work for your child too.
8. Offer a drink
We stick with ice water or just crunchy ice when water will not be drunk. I try to avoid juice or chocolate milk until dinner is done, if I can help it; however, I find that a lot of picky eaters, especially SPD kiddos, want a drink to swirl in their mouth if they’re worried something tastes gross.
We have a reward jar full of small candies and chocolates, sometimes dollar store prizes when our kids have overcome a food aversion and they’ve tried something new. Please do reward effort. This is a huge leap for some kiddos! Reward them for overcoming their food aversions.