Making Your Mealtimes More Palatable
By: Erin Roon, MS CCC-SLP
Having a child with feeding difficulties can make mealtimes difficult for the whole family. Mealtimes can become stressful for everyone, and the entire family can come to dread sitting down to eat together. There are some simple strategies that can make eating more pleasant for everyone involved.
Setting up a routine for mealtimes is very important in making your child feel comfortable. This helps him/her know what to expect. Below are some ideas you may include in your mealtime schedule:
- Provide a 5-10 minute advanced notice. This allows your child time to complete what they are currently doing, and also gives him/her time to prepare mentally for what is coming.
- Include an activity to assist your child in moving to the table such as washing hands, putting the food on the table, or saying a prayer.
- Once your family is seated, pass the food allowing your child to choose what s/he will put on their plate. You will want to ensure that you serve at least one thing s/he will eat.
- If your child is at the point of tolerating food nearby that s/he does not prefer to eat ask that s/he put a small portion on the plate. If s/he is not ready to have it on the plate with the food to be eaten you may provide a separate plate. Be sure to let your child know that s/he is not expected to eat this food, but s/he may try it if s/he would like to.
- The family should eat their meal. During this time parents should be good role models in talking about the food, making positive statements.
- When the meal is finished, an activity such as clearing the table, washing dishes, or cleaning hands and face will assist in bringing closure to the mealtime routine
To make mealtimes productive for your child, at least one other person needs to be eating with him/her. If the child is to have a good role model, then an adult should eat with the child at every meal. This also fosters an opportunity for positive communication about the food that each person is eating.
If your child is able to tolerate being around a variety of foods, you may have him/her assist you in preparing the meal. Food preparation is a wonderful way to prepare your child for mealtime, and also gives him/her exposure to the food without any expectation that the food needs to be eaten. Your child may choose to eat something that s/he has prepared, or may be tempted to try some of the ingredients.
Taking the time to implement mealtime routines is an important part of helping your child become a better eater. If you already have a mealtime routine, think about how you can expand or alter it to include some of the ideas mentioned here. If you have never established a mealtime routine with your children, then spend some time thinking about what a routine could look like for your family. Here’s to many pleasant mealtimes together!