Eating dinner as a family with a child with a sensory processing disorder can be especially challenging. The child with sensory defensiveness may be very picky about eating foods with different textures, odors, tastes or appearance. The child with sensory seeking characteristics may have a difficult time staying seated. Often working with a pediatric occupational therapist can be helpful in developing strategies to help make mealtime more pleasurable for everyone.
If your child is very picky:
* Make mealtime enjoyable, not a battleground. Often working on trying new foods is better done at snack, rather than meal time.
* Continue to offer foods your child has rejected, without pushing or insisting.
* Do not make a separate meal for your child. Place a very small amount of the foods that are being served on your child’s plate. If your child refuses all, have a simple alternative preferred food available.
* During ‘playful food’ or snack times, encourage your child to touch, smell and or taste food; engaging in the activity with your child. Do fun activities like make peanut butter playdough.
* Involve your child in food preparation and if possible growing food.
If your child has difficulty sitting through a meal:
* Try having your child drink liquids through a straw. Increase the ‘mouth work’ by using a long curly straw or serving a thicker liquid, such as a fruit smoothie.
* Try playing classical music that has a steady beat (eg Mozart).
* It may help to have your child sit on an inflated cushion that provides for a little movement.
* Try having a support under your child’s feet (box or phone books taped together). This will probably need to be secured to the legs of the chair.
* Keep time expectations reasonable, allowing your child to leave the table when they are finished eating, working to gradually extend the time the child is able to sit (One family we worked with was struggling to keep their active 4 year old seated until his slow eating older brother finished eating so that everyone cold then eat dessert together. We suggested that they either give the younger child dessert early and then let him down to play or let him down to play and then invite him back for dessert when everyoen was ready. The parents had just never thought about doing dinner a different way. When they did, everyone was much happier.)