It’s a rite of passage for many children to go through a picky eating stage. But, for some, it’s far more than that. An aversion to certain food tastes and textures can stem from a disorder in their sensory integration or oral motor skills. So, favorite holiday dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing and even turkey can be a total turn-off for those with food aversions.
“The holidays are a more stimulating environment because your child may be in a different atmosphere with a lot of unfamiliar people, smells and food,” says Pam Modugno, OT.
Pam, who earned certification in SOS (Sequential, Oral, Sensory), developed Bacharach’s feeding program in response to the growing number of pediatric patients with feeding issues.
“Our program evaluates where each child is developmentally, whether they are on bottles, eating pureed or table food and whether they are able to bite, chew or use a straw,” explains Pam. “We then overexpose them to food by letting them try 10-14 different foods each session – including all the different food groups.”
Prior to having the children try the various foods, Pam has them do heavy work activities, such as scootering, obstacle courses and playing with a therapy ball. This helps them prepare their body for eating.
Here are some tips from Pam on how to help your child enjoy holiday meals:
- Try dishes ahead of time – Cook some of the dishes associated with Thanksgiving, like mashed potatoes, turkey or stuffing, ahead of time. This will expose your child to the food and allow them to start to become comfortable with it.
- Give your child sensory input – Before heading to your family gathering, make sure to give your child some sensory input, such as jumping, running or playing with a sensory ball.
- Tell your child exactly what is going to happen – It is good for your child to know exactly what to expect. You should talk to them about what you are doing, whose house you are going to and who is going to be there. It could be helpful to also show them pictures.
- Let them help prepare the food – If you give your child a chance to help prepare the meal they are more likely to be comfortable with it and might be open to tasting it.
- Bring back up food – Always be sure to pack some of your child’s favorite foods. It is important to have safe foods that they know and are comfortable with in case the new environment is too much for them.
“It is important to encourage your child to try the new food and to remember that even having your child tolerate new food on their plate is a success,” says Pam. “When the food is on their plate they are learning about it because they can smell it, touch it and when comfortable try it. Don’t stress about your child eating all the holiday dishes – just focus on enjoying the holiday time together.”