Ten Tips for Making Progress in Feeding Therapy

Dad and son at farmer's market

Parents’ Ten Tips for Making Progress in Feeding Therapy

The end of a year is a reflective time for many parents, especially those who have children in any type of therapy.  As a pediatric SLP who focuses on feeding, I asked over forty parents for their number one tip that helped their child progress through feeding therapy.  I found it interesting that typically what popped into their minds wasn’t an oral motor tool or a specific therapy modality or other tips like “practice, practice, practice!”  What struck me was that most parents focused on an emotional component.  When we consider the bond between parent and child, that makes perfect sense.  I learn so much from the parents of the children I treat and I’m grateful for their wisdom.

Here are the Parents’ Ten Tips for Making Progress in Feeding Therapy:

#10: “Meet my child where she is…show interest in what she’s interested in” and build from there.  It builds relationships and that’s the foundation for mealtimes.

#9 “Your child sets the pace.” Expectations and goals are two different things, as described in this article for ASHA.

#8: “Patience.” This was the most popular response.  One…step…at…a…time.

#7:  Pause and “be compassionate.” It’s not easy for many kids to move through the developmental process of eating.  Both physical and emotional pain may come into play.

#6: “Have FUN and PLAY daily in food!”  Join in and get the whole family involved, as noted in this ASHA article.

#5: “Expose kids to the Joy of food” – and not just at mealtimes: Farmer’s Markets were a top pick along with the produce isle at the grocery store.  Focus on sharing time together and the event, not what might or might not happen when the food makes it to the dinner plate.

#4: “Build Trust.”  When a child trusts their mealtime partner, whether it be a therapist, parent or caregiver, that builds confidence in eating skills over time.

#3: Kids get sick and sometimes that stalls progress or causes some regression.  One parent stated that: “It’s just part of being a kid, so it’s also part of the process.”

#2: “Rely on Faith,” and not just the religious kind: Faith in family and faith in your child … but also faith in yourself as a parent.

#1: “Park your own stress in the driveway.”  That’s a tip that I teach to parents – and I am pleased to see it repeated here.  Life is full of stressful moments and it’s easy to bring those into your home.  But family mealtimes are a time to focus on family and if there is one thing I am sure of,  it’s that kids mimic  their parent’s emotions.  Be sure to take care of you too – the  feeding therapy process isn’t always easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding and exciting when you witness even the smallest changes in your child’s ability to enjoy all kinds of food.  Those changes often start with your emotions: Smile when you can, laugh even more and be ready for all the good things to come.

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.

 

If You Give My Picky Eater Some Turkey…

PickyEaterGirl

An open letter to any relative who plans to invite my family to Thanksgiving dinner:

In the spirit of the season, I want to thank you and yours for inviting my family and our little picky eater to your traditional Thanksgiving celebration.  I should warn you that my sweet 3-year-old isn’t always the most adventurous eater and may turn up her nose at the traditional holiday fare, but I have a few helpful tips for you here:

If you give my picky eater some turkey, she’s going to ask for a hot dog.  When you give her the hot dog, she’ll probably ask you for ketchup.  Then, she’ll ask for more ketchup.  And then, she’ll refuse the hot dog, because it’s “cold”.  It’s a cold dog.  So she’ll just eat the ketchup.

If you give my picky eater green bean casserole, she’ll panic.  She only eats foods that are easily identified.  Green bean casserole is not easily identified.  But, if you put ketchup on it, it’s fine.  I’ve brought her favorite brand of ketchup, which you have to serve in the original plastic bottle so she can see you squirting it onto her plate. Don’t ever remove the bottle from your lavishly-set table. She’s needs to see it at all times.

If you give my picky eater cranberry sauce from a can, she’ll ask: “How did it get in the can?” along with 100 gazillion other questions.  “Why does it jiggle? What are those lumps? Cranberries? What are cranberries?  It looks like red vomit.”  Now, no one at the Thanksgiving table will eat the canned cranberry sauce…even with ketchup. I’m very sorry for that. That’s why I brought you this very expensive bottle of wine. I suggest you open it now.

If you give my picky eater the platter of candied yams and suggest she helps sprinkle on the mini-marshmallows, she’ll stick out her tongue, but then join in.  As she places the last tiny marshmallows on the layer of yams, she’ll ask why the marshmallows stick to yams.  You’ll probably tell her “It’s the sticky syrup on the yams.”  She’ll reply “Oh, I thought it was because I licked each one.”  You’ll have another glass of wine.

If you give my picky eater some mashed potatoes, she’ll gag.  “But, they taste just like French fries!” you’ll exclaim. She’ll gag again and run from the table.  While having a complete Thanksgiving meltdown, she’ll scream “I want French fries!!!” and you’ll make an immediate mental search of what fast food drive-thrus are open on Thanksgiving. You’ll send you husband out to find French fries and he’ll happily agree to leave.

If you give my picky eater some stuffing, she’ll stare at it.  You’ll tell her it’s chopped-up chicken nuggets that your husband bought while he bought her French fries at the drive-thru. She’ll pause…she’ll ponder…she’ll ask: “Where’s the toy?”  You’ll grab three mini-marshmallows, smoosh them together and tell her it came with a toy “Olaf” from Frozen.

If you give my picky eater some gravy, she’ll ask: “What is this?”  So you’ll lie and say “It’s brown ketchup.” She’ll stare at the brown ketchup and ask “If I eat it, do I get dessert?”

Upon the suggestion of dessert, you’ll give my picky eater a slice of pumpkin pie.  After all, pumpkin’s a vegetable, right?  She’ll ask for some whipped cream to go with it.  But not the homemade kind: She only eats the kind in the can.  “Not like the can that had cranberry sauce,” she’ll explain.  “Only the ‘squirty’ kind of can.”  She’ll eat all the whipped cream off the top of her pie, completely missing any remnant of “vegetable” you hoped she would consume.  That is, unless she detects any kind of lump…like those lumpy cranberries…which are red.  The red will remind her of her favorite food: ketchup.  So, she’ll ask for some ketchup.  And chances are if she asks for ketchup, she’ll want some turkey to go with it.

(Many thanks to Laura Numeroff, author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which was the inspiration for this piece.)

 

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.

Teens and Feeding Therapy:  An SLP’s Top Five Tips!

Making trying new foods fun for teens.

Making trying new foods fun for teens.

As a pediatric feeding therapist, it’s not unusual for me to get a call from a mother who says “My kid’s 14 years old and still eats only six foods. He’s so picky!  I thought he would grow out of it.”  True, with patience and consistent strategies, some kids do indeed grow out of the picky-eater stage, typically at its peak aro

und age three. But if the child had underlying motor, physiological or sensory challenges that stalled the developmental process of learning to eat a variety of foods, it’s not unusual that selective eating behaviors will prevail into the teenage years.  I approach treatment with teens in a similar manner as my younger clients while respecting one important fact: They are teenagers!

Here are my top five tips for interacting with teens while building trust and confidence, plus making feeding therapy successful (and fun!) for both of you:

#5  Use Cool Games:  I always incorporate games into feeding practice.  Learning to try new foods is HARD, at any age.  Including games in the process of biting, chewing and tasting keeps anxiety levels low and still allows learning to take place.  Using games as a means of distraction, such as eating while playing independently on an iPad, does not allow for conscious learning.  Instead, try using games that are reciprocal in nature and where each player’s turn lasts no more than ten seconds.  If your client is working on learning to drink a smoothie, perhaps he might take a drink, get a turn, etc.  Try Blockus, UNO Blast or  Connect-4 Launchers, all interactive and exciting games. Plus, they are easy to clean, which is important in feeding treatment.

#4 Create Your Own Games: To quote a bit of teenage lingo, find out what the teenager “is obsessed with” and create games around that obsession. Does she love three-toed sloths?  Pull up the best sloth videos on YouTube and create a Jeopardy game around them, hiding each video under categories like  “Kristen Bell for One Hundred Please.”   I once had a client who knew every Movie Production Logo in Hollywood.  His mother sent me pictures of ten favorite logos and I laminated two copies of each.  During feeding therapy in his home, we would spread out the laminated pictures all over the kitchen floor and after each bite, try to toss a penny onto a picture.  Get a match, and you get a point.  Another client of mine was obsessed with paintball, but I wasn’t about to do feeding therapy in a paintball bunker.  Instead, I brought my Discovery Toys Marbleworks® and with each bite we added one piece, eventually building intricate contraptions and using the paintballs as marbles.

#3 Ask WHY: Once I get to know a teen, I always ask this question: “Is there a special reason you want to learn to try new foods?” One teen told me that he wanted to ask his girlfriend to Prom, but was afraid that he couldn’t take her to a fancy restaurant for dinner.  “I don’t think they serve pizza there, and that’s all I know how to eat.” That was eye-opening for me!  Now I know his motivation and we have a timeline for success. When there is no motivation, that’s a problem.   It’s common for a teen to reply: “I don’t want to learn to eat anything new – my Mom is making me.”  This is the time to help a teen FIND motivation.  “How’s wrestling going?  Did you know you need protein to build more lean muscle? What types of protein would you like to learn to eat: nuts, hamburger or vegetable protein?”  One of my clients had been consisting on  four strawberry Pediasures mixed with whole milk every day for over three years before starting therapy. He used to eat some solid foods, but over time began to limit his intake until he was food jagging on Pediasure.  He didn’t see a problem, because he liked the way he could gulp down a Pediasure and rush outside during break time to play basketball with his friends. That worked for him because it enabled him to avoid social eating in the cafeteria, which made him very anxious.  I suspected that the high dairy content was making him constipated, thus decreasing appetite.  Let’s face it: A teen is not likely to tell ME about his constipation.  But, I called his pediatrician and requested that they have the constipation talk during the upcoming sports physical.  Once his doctor explained that he would no longer have to struggle with bathroom issues, which was a huge source of embarrassment for him, the teen was open to tasting some new foods.  Feeding therapy, especially with teens, goes best when we focus on the whole child and learning what’s important in his unique world.

#2  Teach positive self-talk: So many older kids engage in negative talk about food because it stops parents from serving it.  Over time, those negative comments become a habit that for lack of better term, is a form of self-brainwashing.  While it’s important to acknowledge a teen’s feelings if he says “I can’t – I’m scared I’ll gag,”  it’s just as important to help him talk positively about eating.  I explain it this way:

I want you to talk to your own brain the way you would talk to your best friend.  If your best friend had practiced with his soccer coach to take a goal kick in soccer but was feeling anxious when it came time to attempt it, he might turn and whisper to you, “I can’t – I’m scared that I’ll miss.” You’d probably tell  him “You’ve practiced with coach and you have the skills to do it!  It’s OK to be nervous – you can still make that goal!”  He needs to hear that from you.  Well, your brain needs to hear the same positive talk from you when you talk about food.  It’s OK to be nervous and it’s OK not to like the taste of it.  We’re just beginning to learn how to how to eat this new food and we are practicing it.”

And this SLP’s #1 Tip? Give Them the Script: Teens may not always have the most descriptive vocabulary, except to narrow taste and texture down to “gross.”   Give them the language and discuss what terms like savory, buttery, creamy truly mean.  A reference list of 345 terms to describe food can be found here.  Plus, it helpful to use comparison phrases such as “It’s similar to tiny dots of corn, but it’s called polenta” in order to build familiarity with a food they’ve experienced in some manner, such as corn.  If the most interaction they’ve had with corn is just staring at it, that’s OK!  Stare at the polenta.  Make it a kitchen science experiment and discuss all the properties of polenta if you need to.  Give them the words that build visual familiarity with polenta: “yellow cornmeal”, “hulled”, etc.  Talk about how it can be baked, fried, grilled or stirred into a porridge.  Interact with it – get to know it.  Now you’ve got a teen whose introducing his brain to polenta by saying: “Polenta is cornmeal, which is made from something I’m familiar with: corn.  I think it looks best when it’s fried, because I like fried foods.” He’s OPEN to the concept of Polenta because he has the terminology to describe it and understand the properties. As you progress from visual interaction to tactile exploration, provide terms that describe the feel of polenta such as “gritty” and “course.” Eventually, you’ll be discussing the same feel in the mouth.  As all SLPs know, language is empowering.

What other strategies do you have when helping teens interact with new foods?  Please list them in the comments section, thank you!

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.

You Want My Kid to Play in Food? Seriously?

1messykid
Yep, seriously.  For many kids, food exploration begins with just learning to tolerate messy hands and faces. Many parents who bring their kids to feeding therapy have one goal in mind:  Eating. In fact, as a pediatric feeding therapist, a common phrase I hear when observing families at their dinner tables is, “Quit playing with your food and just eat it!”

What parents may not understand is that the child is not avoiding food—the child is experiencing it. For the hesitant eater, this may be where a child needs to start. The palms of our hands and our fingers are rich with nerve endings, but the mouth has even more. Playing with food provides the child with information about size, texture, temperature and the changing properties of food as little hands squish and squash, pat and roll, or just pick up and let go: splat!

Here are three silly ways to play in food!  Give it a try—some of it just may end up in your child’s mouth in the process. But if it doesn’t, don’t  worry. Learning to be an adventurous eater takes time and the most important part of the journey is keeping it fun!

  1. Pudding Car Wash: For kids who can’t tolerate the feel of purees, learning to play in a consistently smooth puree, like chocolate pudding, is the preliminary step to eventually playing in more textured foods, like mashed cauliflower. The key is water.  Most kids who hate to get messy enjoy water play, for obvious reasons.  If they can’t tolerate water play, then that’s the place to start, and eventually they will progress to pudding.  You’ll need:
  • Cookie sheet
  • 2 large bowls—one filled with water and soap bubbles and the other with clean water
  • Small toy cars
  • Chocolate pudding
  • It’s simple! Dump some “mud” (chocolate pudding) on the cookie sheet and you now have a “muddy run raceway” to drive through till the cars are coated!  Pushing a toy car through the mud is much easier than just playing in the mud with a bare hand.  The bigger the car, the easier it is to tolerate the sensation, because less mud gets on the hesitant child’s hand.  Plop the car in the “wash” (the soap bubble water) and then fish it out.  Plop it in the clear water and begin again.  The water adds a bit of relief for the kids who are tactilely defensive, but the fun of driving the cars through the mud provides the reinforcement for getting messy. Warning: This could go on all day—kids love it!
  • Variation: Use plastic animals and wash the entire zoo!
  1. Ice Pop Stir Sticks: For kids who cannot tolerate icy-cold in their mouths, add cups of water to take off the chill. There is a significant difference between straight-from-the-freezer-frozen and just icy-cold.  When fruity ice pops on a stick are dipped in cool water, the surface of the ice pop immediately begins to melt.  Now, when your kiddo takes a lick, they’ll lick off just flavored cold water. Keep stirring and the water becomes darker and more flavorful.  Add a skinny straw so kids try a taste. Coffee stirrers work well for this, because the narrow diameter of the stir stick allows just the tiniest taste to land on the tongue.
  2. Hand Print Animal Pictures: I always shudder when I see kids in daycare having to make “hand print” pictures if I know they have sensory challenges including tactile defensiveness. The well-meaning teacher grabs the child’s tiny hand and pushes it into a paper plate of paint before pressing it onto a piece of construction paper to make the infamous hand print, which is later transformed into an animal to be displayed in the classroom. Or, and for some this may be worse, the kids get their hand painted with a tickly paint brush.  That can be very upsetting for a child who doesn’t like to get messy.  Instead, try starting with the teacher’s own handprint, then encourage the child to use the tip of his index finger or the side of his little thumb to make the eye of the handprint animal. That’s the part of the hand where most kids are willing to tolerate a little mess. Think about how you pick up a slimy worm on the sidewalk…you snag it with just the tip of your index finger and the side of your thumb and then toss it quickly back into your garden. That quick release is key—kids need that too. Over time, they’ll work their way up to making an entire zoo of hand print pictures!  Here’s a video that will help you create three African animals—your own handprint safari!

So, the next time you get frustrated with your child for playing in his or her food—think of the child as a little explorer discovering all the properties of food! Encourage it…. it just might lead to a closer food encounter with the mouth!

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.

 

She Didn’t Eat a Thing at School Today!

school lunch
It’s that time of year again and little kids are climbing onto big yellow buses, tiny hands clutching lunch boxes that are packed full with a variety of choices, with their wishful parents praying that they will “just eat something!”  But at the end of the day, especially if the child is a picky eater, parents sigh as they open the lunch box latch and see that lunch has barely been touched.

For children in feeding therapy, treatment doesn’t stop when a child is eating well in the clinic setting.  Once a child has begun to eat even a limited variety of foods, I prefer to generalize new skills to the community environments as soon as possible, even as clinical treatment continues.  The school cafeteria in the one hot spot in the community that most kids visit five times a week.  It can be a chaotic setting, as described in one of my first blog posts for ASHA, which offered some tips on how to help kids eat in the Café-FEARia.  But what can a parent do at home to encourage kids to bring a healthy lunch, even when they only eat only five to 15 foods?  Here are six tips to encourage even the most hesitant eaters to not only eat preferred foods, but phase-in eating those new options showing up in their lunchboxes:

  1. Begin with Exposure: Kids may need to see a new food multiple times before they may even consider trying it.  That means they need to see it at school too.  If you’re thinking, “But he won’t eat it, so why pack it?” remember that the first step is helping your  hesitant eater get used to the presence of that food in his lunch box again and again.  The link to this ASHAsphere post will explain more, including why food doesn’t have to be eaten to serve a purpose in food education.
  2. Pack All the Choices under One Easy-Open Lid: For my school age clients, I use a compartment or bento-style lunchbox, such as EasyLunchboxes® or Yumbox®.  Even little fingers can open the lids quickly to reveal their entire lunch, so no time is wasted when most kids in the public school system have about 20 minutes to enter, eat and exit the cafeteria.
  3. Give them Ownership in the Lunch Packing Process. Kids like predictability and need to feel a part of the process, especially when it comes to food exploration.  For my clients in feeding therapy, once they have the oral motor and sensory skills to eat a few foods, those foods get packed along with other safe choices in their lunchbox.  A child who is receiving tube feedings may still take a lunchbox if he or she is able to eat even a few foods orally.  To make them the Lunchbox Leader, we create a poster board together that has a photo of the inside of their bento box, essentially creating a “packing map.”
    Packing Map #2
    Using colored markers, I help the child list the foods they can eat with arrows pointing to where the foods go in the box. For example, the Yumbox® has compartments with fun graphics representing dairy, grains, proteins, fruit and veggies. If the child is limited to purees, we write “applesauce” next to the fruit compartment on the poster. But we also write a few more future purees that he/she just needs to be exposed to, and those show up too. Parents and kids pack the lunchbox together the night before, and the kids choose from their short lists what goes in each compartment.  If they have exactly five preferred foods and there are five compartments, then we create a rule that they need to pick a new food for at least one of the compartments.
  4. Include a Favorite, But Just Enough:  Selective eaters always eat their favorite foods first, so be sure to include their preferred food, but not too much.  Provide just enough so that you won’t be worried that they are starving, but not so much that the other less-preferred choices don’t stand a chance.  That’s why the bento boxes work so beautifully, because the individualized compartments, along with the “map” to fill them, guide the packing process.
  5. No Comments Please!  When the lunchbox comes home, resist the urge to unpack it immediately. Give everyone a chance to breathe, especially those kids with sensory challenges who have difficulty with transitions from one environment to another. When you eventually open it, no comments about the contents please!  Nothing, not positive or negative. For many kids, it creates too much focus on whether they ate or not.  That’s addressed in feeding therapy. For now, just wash it out and set it on the counter for your child to pack again later that evening.
  6. Keep Up with Other Strategies: Parents who have kids in feeding therapy understand that it’s a steady, step by step process.  Keep  up with strategies listed in this ASHAsphere post or this one and/or those recommended by your child’s therapist.

Whether you have a child in feeding therapy or a “foodie” with a palate that rivals a Top Chef, I encourage you to have all the kids in your family create a packing map and be responsible for their own lunch packing, with the kids choosing from each category while the parent provides the healthy food options and keeps the kitchen stocked.  You might be surprised to see some of your young foodie’s choices shift to the more hesitant sibling’s packing map over time!  Remember, it starts with exposure and builds from there.

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.

Three Reasons Why Kids Get Hooked on “Kids’ Meals”… and How to Change That

chicken

Let me say this up front: I’m not condemning the American Kids’ Meal that is so common in fast food chains and family restaurants, but clearly I’m not keen on eating that type of food when there are other choices.   My own kids have certainly had their fair share of chicken nuggets, mac n’cheese and French fries, just to name a few of the comfort kid foods that predictably reappear on kids’ menus day after day.   This is not a blog about good vs. healthy nutrition, because most parents (including me) know that the traditional fast food fare is not healthy…and that’s exactly why parents want to change the statistics that 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go to McDonald’s  “at least once a day.”    The millions of dollars spent on advertising and toys to market kids meals certainly makes many of us frustrated when much less is spent on marketing a culture of wellness.  By hooked, I don’t mean addicted, although there is research that suggests that food addiction may be a serious component for a subset of the pediatric population Plus, the added sugars in processed foods have been found to be addictive in lab experiments.  But, for the purposes of this short article, let’s keep kids’ meals in this very small box:  Most kids love them.

Why am I writing about this for ASHA? As a pediatric SLP who focuses on feeding, one of the frequent comments I hear from parents is “As long we’ve got chicken nuggets,  then my kid will eat.”   Besides the obvious “just say no” solution, what parents truly are asking is,  “How do I expand my kid’s diet to include more than what’s on a kids’ menu?”  Whether we are considering our pediatric clients in feeding therapy or simply the garden-variety picky eater, that is an excellent question with not a very simple answer.

In feeding therapy, therapists take into account the child’s physiology (which includes the sensory system), the child’s gross motor, fine motor and oral motor skills  and also behaviors that affect feeding practices.  Therapists then create a treatment plan designed to help that specific child progress through the developmental process of eating.  While the nuances of learning to bite, chew and swallow a variety of foods are too complex to cover in a short blog post, here are just three of the reasons why kids get hooked on kids’ meals and some strategies to avoid being locked into the standard kids’ menu and begin to expand a child’s variety of preferred foods:

  1. Kids barely have to chew.  The common fast food chicken nugget is a chopped mixture of …well, if you want to know, click here.  Warning: it will ruin your appetite for chicken nuggets, so if your kids can read,  clicking might be the first solution.  However, in terms of oral motor skills, bites of chicken nuggets are a first food that even an almost toothless toddler can consume with relative ease.  Simply gum, squish and swallow.  Macaroni and cheese?  Oily French fries?  Ditto.  There’s  not a lot of chomping going on!
  • In feeding therapy, SLPs assess a child’s oral motor skills and may begin to address strengthening a child’s ability to use a rotary chew, manage the food easily and swallow safely.  Many of the families we work with eat fast food on a regular basis and we might start with those foods, but slowly over time, more variety is introduced.
  • For general picky eaters or those progressing in feeding therapy, the key is to offer small samplings of foods that DO require chewing, as long as a parent feels confident that their child is safe to do so.  Starting early with a variety of manageable solids, as described in this article for ASHA, is often the first step.   For older kids, the texture (and comfort) of “squish and swallow” foods can contribute to food jags.  Here are ten tips for preventing food jags, including how to build your child’s familiarity around something other than the drive-thru.
  1. At restaurant chains and drive-thrus, kids’ meals are readily available.  Helpful hostesses grab the crayons and the matching kids’ menus as soon as they spot a parent walking in with little children.  Kiddos quickly become conditioned to ordering mac n’ cheese or hot dogs.   Parents want a peaceful, enjoyable experience dining out, so naturally they like the kids’ menu option because it appeases everyone.  But it’s just that–an option.
  • In feeding therapy,  SLPs assess and often treat a child’s ability to be flexible with food at home and in the community.  A hierarchical approach is often utilized, where exposure to new foods occurs as a gradual process over time.
  • As a parent, if your child likes to stick to the same routine at a restaurant, begin with helping your child order from the “adult” menu, knowing that you can request adaptions to certain dishes if needed.  If the prices feel too steep, order a side for the kids, and give them samplings of everything on your plate.  Keep in mind that often the goal is simply experiencing the presence of new foods, so order a side dish that is a favorite food plus present a selection of new options from your plate if you are concerned your child will not eat anything.  Now you and your child have a new routine and the tasting piece occurs once the routine is established.   If you order a salad in the drive-thru, consider skipping the kids’ meal and creating a kid’s sampling of grilled chicken cubes, sunflower seeds, mandarin oranges or other options directly from your salad when you arrive at your destination.   Request an extra packet of dressing if your kids like to dip.
  1. Kids Meals are QUICK! Quick to buy, quick to eat and quick to raise blood sugars and thus, feel satisfied.  I get it – part of today’s hectic lifestyle is shuttling kids to and from activities and often, mealtimes happen while riding in the mini-van.  Fast food chains understand this too – that’s why it’s marketed as “fast food.”
  • In feeding therapy, this reliance on drive-thru food affects progress in therapy.  For example, it’s not uncommon for elementary school kids in feeding therapy to  have trouble eating in the chaotic school cafeteria and be “starving” when a parent picks them up from school.  The quickest, easiest solution: The drive-thru every day after school.
  • In today’s quick-fix society, our children are losing the valuable skill of waiting.  Feeling hungry and then making a snack or meal together to satisfy growling bellies is one way to practice the art of waiting.  Have some pre-cut veggies ready in the refrigerator to nibble on if waiting for the meal is too challenging.  Besides, it’s the perfect time to place them on the counter while your prepping the entrée because you’ve got hunger on your side!  Hint: Blanched veggies, patted dry and then chilled, hold more moisture and taste slightly sweeter to some kids.  The higher moisture content makes them easier to crunch, chew and swallow.  Most blanched fresh vegetables last for several days in the refrigerator.  Remember, keep presenting fresh foods so that the more common option is a healthy one, rather than the oh-so-well marketed processed foods found on many kids’ menus today.

SLPs and parents, what strategies do you use do limit traditional kid food and help kids become more adventurous eaters?  Please comment and share your tips!

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.

Preventing Food Jags: What’s a Parent to Do?

picky eater

 

As a pediatric feeding therapist, many kids are on my caseload because they are stuck in the chicken nugget and french fry rut…or will only eat one brand of mac-n-cheese…or appear addicted to the not-so-happy hamburger meal at a popular fast food chain. While this may often include kids with special needs such as autism, more than half my caseload consists of the traditional “picky-eaters” who spiraled down to only eating a few types of foods and now have a feeding disorder.  I  even had one child who only ate eight different crunchy vegetables, like broccoli and carrots.  Given his love for vegetables, it took his parents a long time to decide this might be a problem. The point is: These kids are stuck in food jag, eating a very limited number of foods and strongly refusing all others.  It creates havoc not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from a social aspect too. Once their parents realize the kids are stuck, the parents feel trapped as well. It’s incredibly stressful for the entire family, especially when mealtimes occur three times per day and there are only a few options on what their child will eat.

It’s impossible in a short blog post to describe how to proceed in feeding therapy once a child is deep in a food jag.  Each child is unique, as is each family. But, in general,  I can offer some tips on how to prevent this from happening in many families, again, keeping in mind that each child and each family is truly unique.

Here are my Top Ten suggestions for preventing food jags:

#10: Start Early.  Expose baby to as many flavors and safe foods as possible.   The recent post for ASHA on Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective may offer insight into that process.

#9: Rotate, Rotate, Rotate: Foods, that is.  Jot down what baby was offered and rotate foods frequently, so that new flavors reappear, regardless if your child liked (or didn’t like) them on the first few encounters.  This is true for kids of all ages.  It’s about building familiarity.  Think about the infamous green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.  It’s rare that hesitant eaters will try it, because they often see it only once or twice per year.

#8: Food Left on the Plate is NOT Wasted: Even if it ends up in the compost, the purpose of the food’s presence on a child’s plate is for him to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it crunch under his fork and  perhaps, taste it.  So if the best he can do is pick it up and chat with you about the properties of green beans, then hurray!  That’s never a waste, because he’s learning about a new food.

#7: Offer Small Portions:  Present small samples.  Underwhelming – that’s  exactly the feeling we hope to invoke.   Besides, if a tiny sample sparks some interest and your child asks for more peas, well, that’s just music to your ears, right?  Present the foods in little ramekins, small ice cube trays or even on  tiny tasting spoons used for samples at the ice cream shop.

#6: Highlight Three or Four Ingredients Over Two Weeks:  You can expose kids to the same three or four ingredients over the course of two weeks, while making many different recipes.  For example, here are nine different ways to use basil, tomatoes and garlic.  Remember get the kids involved in the recipe, so they experience the food with all of their senses.  Even toddlers can tear basil and release the fragrance, sprinkling it on cheese pizza to add a little green.   If they just want to include it as a garnish on the plate beside the pizza, that’s a good start, too!

#5 Focus on Building Relationships with FoodThat often doesn’t begin with chewing and swallowing.  Garden, grocery stop, visit the farmer’s market, create food science experiments like this fancy way of separating egg whites from the yoke.  Sounds corny (pardon the pun!), but making friends with food means getting to know food.  I often tell the kids I work with “We are introducing your brain to broccoli.  Brain, say hello to broccoli!”

#4 Don’t Wait for a Picky Eating Phase to Pass: Use these strategies now.  Keep them up, even through a phase of resistant eating.  Learning to be an adventurous eater takes time.

#3 Don’t Food Jag on FAMILY favorites.  In our fast paced life, it’s easy to grab the same thing for dinner most evenings.  Because of certain preferences, are the same few foods served too often?  Ask yourself, are you funneling down to your list of “sure things?”  It’s easy to fall into the trap: “Let’s just have pizza again – at least I know everyone will eat that.”

#2 Make Family Dinnertime Less about Dinner and More about Family.  Why?  Because the more a family focuses on the time together, sharing tidbits of their day and enjoying each other’s company,  the sweeter the atmosphere at the table.  Seems ironic, given this article is focused is on food, but, the strategies noted above all include time together.  That’s what family mealtimes are meant to be: a time to share our day.  Becoming an adventurous eater is part of that process over time.

And the #1 strategy for preventing food jags?  Seek help early.  If mealtimes become stressful or the strategies above seem especially challenging, that’s the time to ask a feeding therapist for help.  Feeding therapy is more than just the immediate assessment and treatment of feeding disorders – the long term goal is creating joyful mealtimes for the whole family.  The sooner you seek advice, the closer you are to that goal.   I hope you’ll visit me at My Munch Bug.com for articles and advice on raising adventurous eaters and solving picky eating issues.  Plus, here are just a few of my favorite resources:

Websites & Blogs

Doctor Yum.com

Spectrum Speech and Feeding.com

Picky Tots BlogSpot

Books

Getting to Yum

Fearless Feeding

Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) THAT!

Facebook

Food Smart Kids

Feeding Matters

Feeding Tube Awareness

 

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!

sippy

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.