Whether you are grabbing a quick bite or sitting down for good grub, there is no denying that eating is an everyday process often taken for granted. As a parent, you care about your child’s eating habits as it is a function that affects development and growth. We can’t go without eating well! When there is cause for concern, questions often arise: is my child simply a picky eater or is a greater obstacle sitting at the table? Feeding therapy may be able to help, especially for severe cases. We’ll go over what to look for in your child’s behavior.
What is a Feeding Therapist?
Eating is such a complex process. The act involves so many functions of the body including, but certainly not limited to, sensory experience, digestive processes, muscle movement in the oral region, and behavioral components. The feeding therapist is a specialist who is on the ball when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of eating. Feeding therapy is a specialty, which means that an occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist has this certificate added to their education. Ultimately, they will encourage your child to eat better in order to maximize the eating experience’s ease. Mealtime will be more enjoyable for everyone.
“I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.” This famous Dr. Seuss quote is so relatable for parents with picky eaters. The trouble occurs when identifying if eating habits are in dangerous territory. First, understand that eating issues function on a spectrum. One child is not simply just a picky eater or a problem feeder. A child can show signs of both. Other factors need to be evaluated to determine the severity and if feeding therapy is necessary.
With that said, observing the nature of your child’s eating will help identify if behaviors fall onto the picky eating category. If your child is a picky eater, you may notice that your little diner is willing to taste and touch new foods, even if they discover they don’t like it. Most picky eaters will also be able to consume at least one food across texture varieties. For example, they enjoy one soft food like sweet potatoes but have a dislike for other soft foods. A picky eater will even accept about 30 different foods or more without complaint. At times, your child can get tired of foods, but a picky eater will allow you to reintroduce the food after time has passed (about 2 weeks). If these are all signs you notice at the dinner table, chances are a young picky eater is on your plate.
When eating difficulties are more severe, you are in the trouble zone. Children who are a problem feeder will accept less than 20 different foods and will not allow foods to be reintroduced after time has passed. In this way, these foods become “phased out,” which continues an unhealthy cycle of limiting food intake. When eating with your child, the problem feeder can gag, vomit, have an issue swallowing/chewing, throw tantrums when eating, show signs of meal anxiety, and/or refuse to eat entirely despite any hunger cues. Unlike the picky eater, a problem feeder can dislike an entire category of food or avoid foods with textures/ colors they find unappealing.
At the table, you may resort to distracting your child, preparing separate meals for them, or even allowing them to eat separately from the family because the issue with food is so great. It’s natural to find dealing with these behaviors exhausting. The extra effort and worry over your child’s nutrition would weigh on any parent. In these instances, feeding therapy is a great option to get your little one well on their way to a happier, healthier eating experience.
What’s Left on Our Plate?
It’s important to understand that problematic eating behaviors could arise for a variety of reasons such as food allergies, palate defects, gastroesophageal reflux disease (aka GERD), digestive disorders, autism, delays in development, lack of muscle strength, and sensory processing disorder. The feeding therapist will need to complete an evaluation to better understand the root of the problem. If there is any concern at all about the eating habits of your child after reading this, Reach Out for more information. We have the only feeding therapist in the quad city area. Nutrition is never something to mess with!