Mealtime is a great opportunity to gather as a family, enjoy each other's company, and connect at the end of a busy day! For kids with sensory needs, mealtime can prove to be quite difficult with so many different textures, tastes, shapes, and colors all on one plate.
Ten great tips to turn your meal time into an enjoyable family time:
- Include your child in the meal planning and decision-making. Provide a choice of 2-3 options that include your child's favorites too. Giving choice allows kids to feel in control of the situation and will open them up more to testing out new foods!
- Plan Ahead. Solicit input when heading to the grocery store so you can purchase items on your child's list that will be enjoyed. Let your child give a small wish list of items they'd like to eat, and try to incorporate those choices into your recipes and meal planning if possible.
- Stick to a routine. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times. For children with autism and sensory needs, schedules and consistency are key for avoiding meltdowns.
- Skip the snacks. This is crucial for picky eaters who tend to graze all day on empty calories. When packing snacks for school, ensure that each has a healthy element, and try to pack each element separately. If kids are uncomfortable with mushy, soggy, or mixed up foods, they could avoid eating and go hungry through the school day.
- Introduce new foods over and over again. Don’t give up until your child has seen the food at least 16 times. Consistency is key!
- Twenty-one days. Yep. It takes twenty-one days to change a behavior. If your child needs to sit up instead of falling off the chair or leaving the table, reward good sitting habits after twenty-one days in a row. Slip-ups? Start over.
- Be patient. Don’t lose your cool over food. Kids have very little control over their lives and if they know their eating habits get your goat, they will use it. Stay calm.
- Minimize distractions. Make your eating area or dining room free from distractions, including your cell phones, TV, tablets and any tech that can impede family time!
- Don’t offer dessert as a reward. This can create an unhealthy association with sweets. Instead, use incentives like a healthy food your child already enjoys, or a time with a favorite toy or book after dinner.
- Warm up the mouth with an electric toothbrush, chewy or vibrating mouth tool. This readies the jaw muscles for eating, especially for kids with low muscle tone. Chew sugarless gum 30 minutes before dinner to warm up jaw and get tummy juices churning. If kids come to the dinner table hungry and prepared, they'll be more likely to enjoy what's put in front of them.