Our Perception of Taste: What’s Sound Got to Do with It?

music

My first love as a speech-language pathologist is pediatric feeding.  I spend lots of time talking to little kids about “carrot crunchies” and “pea-pops” and various silly names for the sounds that different foods make in our mouths as we explore all of the sensory components of food in weekly treatment sessions.

Is it possible that sound is a larger component of our eating experience than many of us realize? What’s sound got to do with eating, or more specifically, with taste? Discovering how the sound of a crunching potato chip affects flavor is more than just curiosity.  Prof. Charles Spence, who leads Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, studied how the sound that food makes in our mouths influences our perception of freshness.  It’s an important point for potato chip manufacturers, who strive to create the “crunchiest crisp possible.”

Background sounds in the environment also influence our interpretation of taste.  Spence conducted an experiment where individuals were presented with 4 pieces of identical toffee.  Two pieces were eaten while the subjects listened to the lower pitch of brass instruments.  Two other pieces were eaten while listening to the higher pitch of a piano.  The pieces eaten during the higher pitched piano music were rated “sweet” by the subjects and the pieces eaten during the lower pitched music were rated “bitter.”

Chef Blumenthal, owner of The Fat Duck near London, has taken Spence’s research findings to the next level.  Order the “Sound of the Sea” and you’ll enjoy more than seafood delicacies  presented on “a sand of tapioca and fried panko, then topped with seafood foam.” The dish is accompanied by an iPod nestled in a seashell, “so that diners can listen to the sound of crashing waves as they eat.” Spence reports that diners experience stronger, saltier flavors with the sound of the ocean in the background.  Another London restaurant, the House of Wolf, serves a cake pop along with instructions to dial a phone number and then, before tasting,  press 1 for sweet and 2 for bitter.  Diners who listened to the first prompt heard a high pitched melody and those who pressed “two” heard a low brassy tones.   In an article for the Telegraph, Spence said,  “We have also looked at the crispiness of crisps and biscuits and found that by boosting certain high frequency sounds when volunteers bit into them we could make them taste crunchier, and they became softer if we dampened those frequencies.”  It’s not just diners across the pond who are experiencing the marriage of sound and taste. Major food companies in the United States also have consulted with Spence, who developed a soundtrack to “complement”  the coffee at Starbucks®.  Speaking of coffee, in a recent study, Spence found that humans can detect whether a liquid is hot or cold, just from listening to the sound of it being poured into a glass, porcelain, paper and/or plastic cup.  I’ll consider this the next time I’m waiting for my drink at the local coffee shop.  Perhaps, from now on,  I can just listen to the sound of the pour, grab my drink and avoid the barista announcing “Lite Iced Triple Venti Half-Pump Americano Skinny for High Maintenance Melanie” with that smirk on his face.  But, I digress…

When I consider my little clients in feeding therapy, I wonder how this research might be expanded to detect possible differences in taste perception in children with sensory processing challenges, including kids with autism. Certainly, respecting the differences in a child’s sensory system is an integral part of feeding therapy for most clinicians.  Could it be that this hiccup in auditory, visual, gustatory or other sensory systems communicating efficiently with one another makes eating a variety of foods especially difficult for some children, more than we know at this time?  A recent article in The Journal of Neuroscience reported that kids with “autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have trouble integrating simultaneous information from their eyes and their ears” and discussed how this might affect their language skills. Wendy Chung, MD, PhD at Columbia University Medical Center explained in a recent video for parents how a poorly functioning pathway for simultaneous auditory and visual information (and the secondary problems of processing and responding to sensory signals) causes a child with ASD to be overwhelmed in environments that we find quite comfortable.  Perhaps future research may include Spence’s work and how it might apply to children in feeding therapy. Would certain tones be more soothing while eating?  Would certain music in the school cafeteria help children eat faster or even choose more nutritious foods? The common phrase “a feast for the eyes” may one day turn out to be “a feast for the eyes and ears” as we consider all the possibilities.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective

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One of the things I like best about teaching courses on feeding to parents and professionals around the United States is learning what new trends are evolving around family mealtimes. Over the past year,  one of the common questions I’m asked is, “What about Baby Led Weaning?”

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a term coined by Ms. Gill Rapley, co-author of “Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods.”  Rapley graciously chatted with me about her philosophy and explained that although she did not invent BLW, she found the method to be successful in her work as a former health visitor and midwife in the United Kingdom and continues to study the topic today while earning her PhD.

In a nutshell, BLW centers on the philosophy that babies are developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age. As stated on the BLW website “You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t.”  Please note that the word “wean” is not referring to weaning from breast or bottle, but instead refers to a term commonly used in the United Kingdom for adding complementary foods to the baby’s current diet of breast milk or formula.  According to the BLW website, ideas for first foods include “chip size” steamed vegetables such as a broccoli spear with the stem as a handle, roasted potato wedges, meat in large enough pieces for the baby to grasp and chew, rice cakes, cucumber, celery and dried apricots.

As a SLP who focuses on pediatric feeding, I view feeding as a developmental process.  Whether I’m working with a child experiencing delays in development or offering advice to a parent whose child is meeting milestones with ease, I always ask myself “How can I respect and support this family’s mealtime culture while guiding this child safely through the developmental course of learning to eat?”  Thus, for families who are interested in following the BLW method, whether their child is in feeding therapy or not, I try to support their wishes if the child is capable,  while offering the following BLW points to consider:

BLW encourages parents to eat with their children, since everyone is eating the same food. 

In today’s busy culture, it feels easier to many parents to feed the baby prior to the adult or family meal, and in BLW the thought is that jarred purees contribute to this habit and it’s important to include baby at the table at an early age.  Even in feeding therapy,  the ultimate goal is for families to be able to gather around the table at mealtimes with everyone enjoying the same foods.  Plus, Columbia University reports that consistent family dinners are an integral and valuable part of raising children.

BLW emphasizes that babies must be the ones to put the food in their mouths.

Feeding therapists encourage self-feeding  for all kids because it allows them to get messy.  Babies are programmed to explore the world with all of their senses, especially their hands and mouths, and often the two together!  BLW notes that the time to begin self-feeding is at 6 months when baby can sit upright on his/her own. I explain to parents that first, every child must have the gross motor stability to support fine motor skills, including reaching and raking for food and controlling their grasp to bring the food to the mouth to be chewed.  For children who have this capability, I feel comfortable with large pieces of food that will not snap off (or allow a solid chunk to fall into the mouth) in addition to short spoons and chewable toys for practicing the skills that will eventually lead to self-feeding.

BLW follows the baby’s cues rather than the parent controlling the feeding via the spoon.

I explain that whether presenting food to your child by placing it on the high chair tray in front of them, directly on a spoon or even mouth to mouth as done in some cultures, reading baby’s cues for readiness is crucial.  Like a beautiful, flowing conversation, feeding children is a reciprocal experience.

According to the BLW blog, BLW introduces chip-size foods (rather than purees or mashed foods) so that baby learns to chew first and then spit out if unable to swallow, noting that with purees on a spoon, babies learn to swallow first and then chew.

From a developmental perspective,  this doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of how infant reflexes integrate  and babies acquire oral motor skills. Babies can begin the process of BOTH spoon and finger feeding between the ages of 5 and 6 months using both purees and soft, safe foods.  Why?  Because this is when babies acquire better lip control and movement as they suck the puree off of a parent’s finger, their own hands or a spoon.  As noted in Diane Bahr’s book “Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That!” this is when babies use their rhythmic bite reflex to bite off soft pieces of safe, soft or meltable foods that they can hold in their tiny fists or when presented by a parent to their open mouths. If the food is placed onto the gums where we will one day see molars, a rotary chew pattern will begin to emerge over time, thanks to reflexive patterns that soon become purposeful movements.  It’s a developmental process and BOTH purees and finger feeding facilitate the progression of skills. It makes sense to me to transition gradually from thinner  liquids (breast milk/formula) to thicker (thus, a smooth puree) to consistently mashed or chopped  while introducing soft meltables over time.  Keep in mind that I also encounter families who are moving too slowly through graduation of textures, as noted in this article by Bahr.  But, jumping straight to only large pieces of foods to be chewed and then either swallowed or spit out feels like skipping crucial steps in the developmental process.  “Feels like” is the key phrase here: We need research to determine if children who follow this model eventually acquire skills traditionally learned prior to chewing chunks of food as listed in this article found in ASHA Perspectives.  Unlike my previous post on sippy cups, where therapists have raised concerns based on their professional experience over several years and observation of prolonged sippy cup use,  consistent BLW practices are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States.  So, when any parent asks “What about Baby Led Weaning?” I try to integrate my own practitioner expertise and knowledge of feeding development while honoring the family’s preferences and mealtime culture.  Still,  my biggest concern for any 6 month old child is choking.

BLW encourages parents to become comfortable with gagging episodes and understand the difference between gagging and choking. 

Gagging versus choking are two different experiences.  Typically, an infant’s gag reflex is triggered when the back three quarters of the tongue is stimulated, but by the time a child reaches  9 months of age, the reflex covers less area, lying on the back third of the tongue. Eventually, the gag reflex shifts posteriorly even more as the child learns to tolerate the stimulation. Gagging is nature’s way of protecting the airway, where true choking occurs.  Choking happens when food (or other substances) obstruct the airway and thus, often has no sound or intermittent, odd sounds.  Other signs of choking include but are not limited to: gasping for breath, turning blue around the lips and beneath the eyes and/or staring with an open mouth while drooling.

Gagging is an uncomfortable sensation where the soft palate suddenly elevates, the jaw thrusts forward and down, and the back of the tongue lifts up and forward.  It is not unusual for a child to vomit after gagging.  In between the gags, the child is still able to breathe, cry and make vocal noises.  The occasional gag is an important built-in safety mechanism, but frequent gags and/or vomiting can lead to an aversion to food.

In summary, when asked for advice from any family that would like to follow Baby Led Weaning principles, I stress the importance of reading baby’s cues and monitoring them closely for safe feeding while supporting them through the developmental process of learning to eat, no matter what age.  This includes proper positioning in the feeding chair for optimal stability and presenting only manageable pieces of safe, meltable and/or solid foods that do not pose a choking hazard.  For children in feeding therapy, incorporating some aspects of BLW is dependent on that child’s individual delays or challenges and where they are in the developmental process, regardless of chronological age.  My primary concern for any child is safety – be aware and be informed, while respecting each family’s mealtime culture.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Step Away From the Sippy Cup!

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Sippy Cups became all the rage in the 1980s, along with oversized shoulder pads, MC Hammer parachute pants and bangs that stood up like a water spout on top of your head.   A mechanical engineer, tired of his toddler’s trail of juice throughout the house, set out to create a spill-proof cup that would “outsmart the child.”  Soon,  Playtex® offered a licensing deal, the rest is history and I suspect  that mechanical engineer is now comfortably retired and living in a sippy-cup mansion on a tropical island in the South Pacific.

Geez. Why didn’t I invent something like that?  I want to live in a mansion in the South Pacific. By the way,  I also missed the boat on sticky notes, Velcro® and Duct Tape®–all products I encounter on a daily basis, just like those darn sippy cups I see everywhere.  I truly shouldn’t be so bitter, though – in my professional opinion, over-use of sippy cups is keeping me employed as a feeding specialist and I should be thankful for job security.  Thank goodness for the American marketing machine – it has convinced today’s generation of parents that transitioning from breast or bottle to the sippy cup is part of the developmental process of eating.  Problem is, those sippy cups seem to linger through preschool.

As an SLP who treats babies with feeding challenges, I frequently hear from parents how excited they are to begin teaching their baby to use a sippy cup.  They often view it as a developmental milestone, when in fact it was invented simply to keep the floor clean and was never designed for developing oral motor skills.  Sippy cups were invented for parents, not for kids.  The next transition from breast and/or bottle is to learn to drink from an open cup held by an adult in order to limit spills or to learn to drink from a straw cup.  Once a child transitions to a cup with a straw, I suggest cutting down the straw so that the child can just get his lips around it, but can’t anchor his tongue underneath it.   That’s my issue with the sippy-cup: It continues to promote the anterior-posterior movement of the tongue,  characteristic of a suckle-like pattern that infants use for breast or bottle feeding.  Sippy cups limit the child’s ability to develop a more mature swallowing pattern, especially  with continued use after the first year.  The spout blocks the tongue tip from rising up to the alveolar ridge just above the front teeth and forces the child to continue to push his tongue forward and back as he sucks on the spout to extract the juice.

Here’s another important take-a-way on this topic:   A 2012 study by Dr. Sarah Keim of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio reported that “a young child is rushed to a hospital every four hours in the U.S. due to an injury from a bottle, sippy cup or pacifier.”   Dr. Keim theorized that as children are just learning to walk, they are often walking with a pacifier, bottle  or sippy cup in their mouths.  One stumble and it can result in a serious injury.

Before I ever climbed onto the anti-sippy cup soap box, I let my own two kids drink from them for a short time.  I even saved their first sippy cup – I’m THAT mom who saved EVERYTHING.  If it’s too hard to let go of the idea of using a sippy cup, let the child use it for a very short time. Then, step away from the sippy cup if the child is over 10 months old or beginning to show signs of cruising the furniture.  In the near future, it will soon be time to conquer two genuine developmental milestones–mastering a mature swallow pattern and learning to walk.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Remembering Sandy Hook: How to Live Like a First Grader

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As a speech-language pathologist who works with young children in their homes and schools, it’s impossible for me not think of the heartbreak at Sandy Hook Elementary School this time of year. Shortly after the tragedy in 2012, I made a list of some simple things I can do to honor those precious lives taken on December 14th. Every year, I plan to add to the list. This new year, I promise to embrace life more like a first grader in memory of the children and the young-at-heart adults who will always be missed by their families and communities. I plan to:

• Break into random acts of dancing in the most quiet places, like the doctor’s office.

• Use words like “sparkly.”

• SKIP. Everywhere.

• Stop in my tracks and squeal at the sight of anything furry: squirrel, neighbor’s dog, or the ring of fur on my best friend’s winter hood.

• Learn to read…new books, that is. Something happy – something meaningful, like “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss.

• Sing silly songs. Loudly. In public.

• Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich masterfully created with a dinosaur cookie cutter. This will make any co-worker at the office jealous and he will ask his mom for the same lunch.

• Gallop, because I love horses. Skipping is so over-rated when you can gallop.

• Pretend.

• Buy a Whoopee cushion and burst out laughing every single time someone sits on it. Whoopee cushions never, never get old.

• Finger paint. Do crafts. But first, let go of perfection.

• Hold it up and yell, “I made this for you!” and then give it to a stranger.

• Bring an apple to a teacher.

• Stomp in a puddle.

• Make a homemade card to brighten someone’s day.

• Eat snow.

• Open your lunch in front of co-workers and announce, “I got a juice box today!”

• State emphatically every 20 minutes “I’m hungry.” Oh wait, I already do that.

• Dress up. Wear party shoes even when there is no party.

• Take every opportunity to play… especially in the rain.

• Truly believe in the power of a found penny (head-side up, of course).

• Demand a full set of birthday candles on my cake EVERY year, and blow them out with vigor.

• Lick the spoon.

• Hold the door open for the rest of the line behind me.

• Never ever walk by a playground without stopping to swing.

• Go to the library.

• Post things that I am proud of on my refrigerator.

• Hug my mom and dad.

Never forget to be a kid! What do you plan to do in the New Year? Let us know in the comments below. Let’s keep this list growing in memory of Sandy Hook.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

 

All I Want for Christmas is My G-Tube Out!

santa baby

A Parent’s Expectations and an SLP’s Goals

As a pediatric SLP who focuses on feeding, I guide families through the process of transitioning from g-tube feedings to 100% oral feeds and ultimately, removal of the g-tube.  This year, I had the unique experience of learning more about the emotional process through the eyes of one mom who happened to be an SLP, too.  In the course of nine months of feeding therapy,  her daughter Payton has taught us both that goals and expectations aren’t always met on the SLP’s or parent’s timeline and that most importantly, the child sets the pace.  Payton’s mom graciously shared her thoughts on the process:

History: Payton was born in December 2012 at 38 weeks, 4 days and weighed 4 lbs., 13 oz..  One month  later, Payton was hospitalized due to congestion, but it soon became apparent that this was a more serious matter.  On January 9th, surgeons performed a Ladd’s procedure to repair a malrotation of the stomach and intestines, a Nissen fundoplication to control reflux and secondary aspiration, removed her appendix, repaired a hernia and placed the g-tube.

Payton-Preemie2

Melanie: When I first met you in March 2013, your family and of course, Payton, had been through so much!  What did that feel like, knowing that she needed surgery and consequently, a g-tube? 

Payton’s Mom: This was my baby; my flesh and blood. I was so mad, sad, overwhelmed, devastated, in denial, and didn’t want any of this to happen. There had to be another option, another way to make her better. My child was not going to eat through a tube and I was going to do all that I could to get that thing out as soon as I could.  I was SO mad and devastated that this had to happen to MY baby.  It felt to us that when she was in the hospital, that the goal was to “fix” her and then we were sent home (feeling totally alone and shattered) to cope with all that we needed to get her to grow and thrive.  Short and long term goals were not clearly communicated to us.  In the back of my mind I knew that this would be a long journey, but I didn’t exactly know how long or what it would entail and I wanted to know NOW! Everyone in the hospital kept telling me that Payton would do this at her own pace (“Payton’s Pace”) but I didn’t want to wait. I wanted my baby better now!

Melanie: We have often talked about the difference between setting goals and setting expectations.  Your journey with Payton has helped me to have a better understanding of the difference.  Goals are targets or objectives.  Expectations feel more passionate and focus on hope, anticipation and personal beliefs.

Payton’s Mom:  As an SLP, I set goals and benchmarks all the time. There is a target behavior you want your client to meet and you set reasonable, attainable steps to get there over a specific, realistic time period.

As a parent, when you have a child with any challenge, you have expectations for them that are based on your emotions, including sadness, anger, denial and/or hope.  From the beginning of our journey, I remember having the expectation that Payton would eat a normal birthday cake and drink milk from a cup on her 1st birthday. Even though Payton just had a feeding tube placed and we were not sure when she would be eating orally again, I still had this expectation.

Melanie: I remember that so well!  I asked you what I ask every parent in feeding therapy: “Tell me what you want for your child” and you answered “I want her to eat birthday cake on her first birthday” and then, you stated it clearly to me once again, just to ensure that I understood.  “She’s GOING to eat BIRTHDAY CAKE on her FIRST birthday” and you had tears in your eyes.  That was a big lesson for me – you’ve taught me so much.  Expectations are very emotional. 

Payton’s Mom: I also had other expectations: that she would be running the hallways of the hospital on the week of her first birthday and say hello to the doctors who treated her!  When I stated these expectations, I knew in the back of my mind that it was unfair to myself and especially to Payton to expect this, because if she couldn’t do it, then would I feel guilty, disappointed, angry and upset that the therapists and doctors didn’t do their job right, or that I wasn’t doing my job.  It was all based on my hope for her to be “normal” and desperately wanting all the emotions of sadness and anger to go away after this difficult journey

Melanie: Is there anything else you feel would be helpful for parents and therapists to understand?

Payton’s Mom: Most importantly, follow your instinct as a parent. I truly believe that following my instinct saved Payton’s life.  A parent should trust that feeling inside of them and advocate for their child as they know them best. The opinions of doctors and therapists should be respected as they are knowledgeable and experienced;  however as the parent you go through life with your child all day, every day and it’s important to communicate and discuss the issues  with the doctors and therapists. Come to an agreement what is reasonable and feasible for your child and family. Sometimes when doctors and therapists are not on the same timetable as you it “gets in the way” of your expectations as a parent. A lot of time is spaced between appointments and as a family, life goes on. Another lesson is to pick your team well. When you have a child who works with many different specialists, it’s important that you work well with them as a family and that your child responds positively to them. There are many options when it comes to professionals and you don’t have to work with who was assigned to you, specifically in the hospital, if you do not communicate well with them, agree with their overall philosophy, or feel that there is mutual respect in the relationship.  Lastly, I have learned to respect my child’s pace of development and progress. Getting your child the therapy they need and following through with the  recommendations from doctors and therapists is essential, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to meet the goals and expectations for them on your timeline. I have tried to remind myself when things get tough/or my expectations are not met that this is “Payton’s Pace.” She is her own being who will determine what she does and when she does it.

Melanie:  Yes, she sets the pace.  So, we don’t know if she’ll get her tube out at Christmas.  What’s  most important is what a fantastic year this has been for her and for Team Payton!   Plus,  this is her birthday month!  She’ll have cake and something delicious to drink from a cup.  Probably a purple cup … because she loves purple.  Happy Birthday, Payton!

Payton-One-Year-Old2

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Planning for Holiday Meals with a Picky Eater

Nov7

 

As an SLP  focused on the treatment of pediatric feeding disorders,  there is one common denominator among all the families on my caseload:  The stress in their homes at mealtimes is palpable.   Now that Thanksgiving and other food-centered holidays are approaching,  the anticipation of an entire day focused on food has many parents agonizing over the possible outcomes when well-meaning relatives comment on their child’s selective eating or special diet secondary to food allergies/intolerances.

This time of year, I try to find practical ways to reduce the stress for these families.   One of the first steps in feeding therapy is for parents to lower their own stress level so that their child doesn’t feed into it (pardon the pun).   I often address parent’s worries with a “What IF” scenario.  I ask, “What’s your biggest fear about Thanksgiving?”   The top 3 concerns are as follows:

What IF Junior won’t take a bite of Aunt Betty’s famous green bean casserole?

It’s not about the bite, it’s about wanting Aunt Betty’s approval.   Focus on what Junior CAN do.  If he can sprinkle the crispy onion straws on top of Betty’s casserole, call Betty ahead of time and ask if he can have that honor.  Explain how you would love for him to learn to eventually enjoy the tradition of the green bean casserole and his feeding therapist is planning on addressing that skill in time.  But, for now, she wants him to feel great about participating in the process of creating the green bean masterpiece.  If Junior can’t bear to touch the food because he is tactile defensive, what can he do?  Pick out the serving dish perhaps and escort Aunt Betty carrying the dish to the table?  Taking the time to make Aunt Betty feel special by showing interest in her famous dish is all Betty and Junior need to feel connected.

What IF Grandpa Bob reprimands Junior for “wasting food” or not eating?

Keep portions presented on the plate quite small – a tablespoon is fine.  Many families use ‘family-style” serving platters or buffet style, where everyone dishes up their own plate.  Practice this at home.  It’s not wasting food if Junior is practicing tolerating new foods on his plate.  That food went to good use!  If Grandpa Bob grew up during the Great Depression, this might be tough for him to understand.  If he reprimands Junior, change the subject and tell Junior your proud of him for dishing up one whole brussel sprout! That requires some expert balancing and stupendous spoon skills!

What IF Junior gags or vomits? 

Not surprisingly, this is the one sensory reaction that most relatives sympathize with and try desperately to avoid.  Preparing the host ahead of time is gracious and appreciated.    Preparing your child is helpful too and Stress Free Kids.com offers these tips.  I recommend that parents identify what stimuli is most noxious to the child and talk with the host about those, offering assistance in preparing special food or supporting the host’s planned menu as much as possible.  Bring a change of clothes for Junior, just in case, as well as a quiet activity for him to enjoy if you sense that the meal may be just too overwhelming for him.  Plan other activities that don’t involve food to emphasize the message of the season: Being grateful.

Gather together with thankful hearts.  That is the theme for this year’s Thanksgiving.  Let go of the fear and ask “What IF Thanksgiving went just fine?”  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

The School Cafeteria: Hurry Up and EAT!

Aug 22

 

Most parents tell me that their elementary school child has 20 to 25 minutes to enter the school cafeteria,  search for her lunchbox buried in a portable tub, find a place to sit, open all the containers, eat (oh, right, eat), then clean and pack up before the bell rings.  In an effort to ensure that their kids eat anything at all, well-meaning parents pack lunchboxes filled to the brim with typically, 7 to 8 different options!

Picture this: Your little first grader searches for spot in a sea of tables, newly found lunchbox in hand.  She squeezes in between her best friends, climbing up onto the metal bench, feet dangling, with her  little elbows resting on the much too high table top, just below her chin.  Most school cafeterias provide the same size seating for the entire school, whether the kids are 3 feet tall or towering 5th graders, about to move on to middle school.  Ever try to eat a meal on a narrow bench, your feet dangling and no back-rest?  It’s not easy.  By the time your child gets  the plastic bags opened, the juice box straw unwrapped and poked hard enough into the box that it squirts her in the face, all while holding up her other hand  to signal the teacher “Can you please open this lid?” well, another 5 minutes have passed by.  Meanwhile,  she’s excited to get out to recess, now just 15 minutes away.

As a feeding therapist, I visit lots of school cafeterias and have learned that parents and teachers have one priority: Getting kids to eat a nutritious lunch.  In contrast, kids have this priority: Talking to their friends.  How then, does a parent pack a lunch, especially for a picky eater or perhaps a child with special needs, that still allows their child some much needed “down time” to chat with friends yet fill their bellies quickly and nutritiously? Here are 3 strategies to do just that:

  1. Send one easy open container plus a drink.  I recommend EasyLunchboxes® BPA-free system, because the lid is easy for little fingers to pop off and instantly reveal 3 to 4 yummy choices.  Another favorite is the Yumbox®, where the single tray is divided into ½ cup portions designed for the key food groups: Fruit, Veggies, Grains, Protein and Dairy.  Both options are quick to open and not as overwhelming as a lunchbox filled to the brim with individual plastic bags, containers and/or drippy fruit cups with tricky foil lids
  2. Pack “GRAB and GAB” food.  Cut fresh fruit, veggies, sandwiches, cheese, etc. into small enough pieces that kids can grab a piece without gazing down and continue to gab with their friend across the table.  My favorite speedy gadget is FunBites® which instantly creates grab and gab bites, yet has no sharp edges.  It’s a fun way to get  kids in the kitchen making their own lunch the night before – once again,  get them involved and they are more likely to eat it later.  For some kids, cutting a sandwich into a larger, fun shape like a dinosaur, keeps the conversation and the eating on the same track.  But, for those kids who tend to just eat a sandwich and skip the other items, try cutting the sandwich into small pieces with a  FunBite® so the child alternates “grabbing”  a variety of foods, much like a mini-smorgasbord.  Remember, you don’t need to send a whole sandwich when sending half leaves room in little bellies for other key food groups.
  3. Include a power- packed smoothie  that you made the night before.  Freeze it directly in the cup (with a lid, of course) and be sure to include a wide straw.  By the time your child opens her lunch, the smoothie will be the perfect consistency, plus it helped to keep the lunch cold.  For elementary school age kids, refillable pouches are another option for healthy smoothie or puree blends.  One of my favorites is the adorable 4.5 oz. Squooshi™, which is freezer and dishwasher safe and free of all the “bad-for-yous” like BPA, lead and phthalate.  Recipes for kids of all ages can be found on the Squooshi website.  Another terrific option is to fill a Sili Squeeze with Eeeze™ food pouch and freeze it with the cap on. Please note that the manufacturer does not recommend storing the Sili Squeeze™ in the freezer for an extended periods of time, but states on their website that “Sili Squeeze™ is the perfect lunch box addition to keep your child’s lunch cool and will be perfectly defrosted for lunch time!”

One elementary school that I visited was graciously flexible to help one little girl eat better.  They provided a smaller table that fit her so that her feet could be on the floor (or try a box underneath little feet as a footrest). The table should be at sternum-height so your child can see her food and rest her arms for stability.  Smaller tables also reduce cafeteria noise and foster social skills thanks to smaller groups of kids sitting together.

Here’s a picture of that sweet little girl.  Note the easy “grab and gab” food in one (and only one) container.  See the rest of the food on the table?  That belongs to the two other kids seated across from her.

Aug22

Tell me about your kids’ cafeterias – the good, the bad and the delicious!  What can we do to help kids in school get more time and more options for a healthy lunch?


Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.