Parents often face challenges with meal time for their children. This becomes especially challenging following medical or behavioral challenges. Feeding patterns are established early on in a child’s life. It is important for parents to identify their ideals and establish a routine prior to expecting a child to comply with something that is unrealistic for the family to implement.
In a world of fast foods and fast paced lives it is much more challenging to make time to identify how we want our children to eat, find the time to cook to meet our ideals and then to have the energy to follow through with this expectation.
The biggest challenge for parents is to identify their priorities when feeding their child. If you want your child eating healthy you need to be able to model this behavior and know that you can make it happen despite a busy schedule. Once you have accomplished this it needs to remain a priority. It doesn’t mean you can’t pick-up something to go on the run, it does mean it is the exception rather than the rule. It means taking a different focus on grocery shopping and meal time. It requires planning for meals and snacks vs. always grabbing things on the go. If more fruit in a child’s diet is a priority then it needs to be available in the fridge or basket on the kitchen counter.
For many families the biggest challenge is finding the time to make healthy eating a priority, for others however the challenge is complicated by difficult medical or feeding/swallowing issues a child has had. When presented with health issues the priority becomes one of just making sure the child is getting the nutrition they need and the overall dietary issues/food choices become inconsequential. Likewise, a child with a swallowing disorder may be limited in the textures they are able to consume. Parents in both situations face challenges in changing a child’s diet once the medical issues become resolved. A change in consistency or texture can be overwhelming for a child who has habituated to certain textures, consistencies or foods. The avoidance to new foods is rigid and difficult to overcome. It has been said that it takes 12 introductions of a new food for it to become tolerated. Experience says it doesn’t typically take that long for a child to accept a new food, but it certainly makes a statement about how much work may need to be done on changes when making them.
Sensory Processing Issues
Children with sensory processing issues experience similar difficulty in adding new foods and textures as those with medical or swallowing difficulties. Parents often find it easier to go along with the likes of the child than to battle to change the foods they are eating whereby a child becomes even more resistant to dietary changes. The longer the patterns persist the more difficult it is to change them.
With any medical or swallowing difficulties it is imperative there are no ongoing issues to be concerned with prior to implementing any changes. It is also helpful to work with a professional that has experience in feeding and swallowing to help implement the changes. Change requires a combination of creativity, gradual change, and structure. It is the consistent implementation of change that makes any feeding program successful, along with identifying dietary patterns of a household and ways to make changes work for a child and their family.