As children grow and develop, the food they consume also evolves in both variety and volume. On the continuum of feeding, there are “good eaters” who are interested in and enjoy a variety of foods, “picky eaters” who prefer fewer foods, but can maintain good health and nutrition, and “problem feeders” who often have food aversions that impact their overall health and well-being.
A food aversion may look like this…
- A child with a limited diet of 10-15 foods or less
- A child who consistently cries or shuts down with new foods or who requires food to be presented a certain way
- A child who refuses entire food groups or food textures (wet, sticky, squishy, etc.)
- A child who often experiences choking or gagging in response to certain foods/texture
The begging, bargaining, and rewards commonly used to incentivize picky eaters to take “just one more bite” will likely not work for a child with a food aversion, as food aversions often stem from an underlying sensory or motor difficulty. We rely on our sensory and motor systems to have predictable and peaceful mealtime experiences. When these areas are difficult, eating can be a stressful event and affect mealtimes for the whole family.
A sensory-based food aversion can look like: difficulty with certain textures, hesitancy to get hands messy, preferring plain foods or seeking movement during mealtimes. A motor-based food aversion can look like food falling out of the mouth while chewing, having difficulty swallowing without liquids, or choking on food.
All families desire to have positive mealtime experiences. Our recommendation for families is to start with small changes, for example: including at least one “safe” or preferred food on your child’s plate alongside the meal you have prepared. Or introduce one new food each week for your child to explore without the pressure of eating the food.
If it feels like you’ve tried everything to create peaceful mealtimes or if you think your child might be struggling with food aversion, contact us for more information or to schedule a free consultation with one of our OTs.