Feeding and mealtimes are often stressful for a variety of reasons. Your toddler might be going through a throwing phase or maybe there is a sensory processing disorder involved. Oral motor challenges can cause kids to gag on food. Tactile sensitivities can lead to food refusal because of certain textures. You want your child to be healthy and happy, so how can you reduce the stress of mealtime?
Our occupational therapists share 5 tips that can help you promote mealtime success.
1. Proper positioning
Think of this as the 90-90-90 rule. It’s important to have your feet flat on the ground or the footrest of a highchair with knees, hips, and elbows all bent at 90-degree angles while allowing your arms to easily reach the food. Sitting ergonomically encourages good posture as well as makes you more comfortable. When you feel physically comfortable you’re less likely to be anxious or upset, leading to more pleasant meals!
If you see that your child needs a higher seat, add in a seat cushion to raise them closer to the table. For kids who cannot reach the floor when seated, we recommend using a Foam Dome or other type of footrest to keep their feet well positioned.
2. Join in
Eating is a very social activity. Even if you are not going to eat a full meal at the same time as your kids, have a little bit at the table with them. This allows you to model the positive behavior that you want to see. Additionally, watching you eat may spark your kids’ interest in eating, too.
Involving your child in meal prep can also be a great way to provide exposure to food in a less pressured setting. Mixing and pouring ingredients offers opportunities for fun tactile exploration. Get creative with plating your meal in a beautiful way so that your kids can play with the colors and feel more comfortable with the food. Exposure to the food outside of just eating it can encourage more positive feelings towards meals over time.
3. Reduce distractions
Take note of any possible distractions taking your child’s attention away from their meal. Put away toys or turn off the TV if your child wants to go play instead of eating. If siblings come home from school during dinner, try starting the meal a little earlier to avoid the just-coming-home rush of activity.
4. Aim for routine and predictability
Stick to a mealtime schedule as much as possible so that your kids can anticipate when they will eat. Is your child hungry when they get home from school? That is a great time to eat dinner! Does bath time typically follow dinner? Keep your schedule so that your child knows what is happening and when.
It will take some experimentation to find the best schedule for you and your child. Remember that it takes time to settle into a routine. Change only one thing at a time to avoid overwhelming your child.
5. Give them some autonomy
Sometimes meals become a power struggle between you and your child. Before dinner starts, choose 2-3 options that you are comfortable offering your kids. Giving them a choice of those foods allows them to feel more in control of their meal. While it may be difficult to let go of the hope that your kids will eat everything you serve, it may reduce the overall stress at meals!
What strategies have you used to encourage pleasant meals with your kids? We’d love to add more tips to this list! Leave them in the comments below or contact us at email@example.com.