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“Helping Picky Eaters During the Holidays: A Pediatric Occupational Therapy Approach”

November 14, 2023

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and, of course, delicious meals. However, for children who are picky eaters, these festivities can be a source of stress and discomfort.  Sometimes picky eaters have what is called Food Aversions.

Pediatric occupational therapy (OT) can play a crucial role in helping children overcome their aversions and enjoy the holiday season to the fullest. In this blog post, we will explore how OT can assist in addressing food aversions during the holidays.

Understanding Food Aversions

Picky eating can be a normal part of development, but sometimes children become resistant eaters.  This is where they develop food aversions and restrict themselves to a limited number of foods.  These children become easily upset/stressed when new and/or different food is presented to them. Food aversions in children can arise for various reasons, including sensory sensitivities, past negative experiences, or developmental issues. These aversions can limit a child’s diet, making holiday gatherings and meals a challenging experience for both the child and their family. 

Pediatric Occupational Therapy’s Role 

Pediatric occupational therapists specialize in helping children develop the skills they need to engage in daily activities, including eating. Here’s how OT can assist with food aversions during the holidays:

  • Assessment: The first step is to understand the specific nature of the child’s aversions. OTs will assess the child’s sensory processing abilities, oral motor skills, and any underlying issues that may contribute to their food aversions.
  • Sensory Integration: Many food aversions stem from sensory sensitivities. OTs can employ sensory integration techniques to desensitize children to the textures, smells, and tastes of certain foods. This process is gradual and tailored to the child’s comfort level.
  • Oral Motor Skills: OTs can work on improving a child’s oral motor skills, such as chewing and swallowing, to make eating different foods more manageable and less anxiety-inducing.
  • Food Exploration: OTs often use food play and exploration as a fun way to expose children to new foods. This can involve activities like finger painting with food, creating food art, or cooking together as a family.
  • Desensitization: Gradual exposure to new foods and textures is essential. OTs can develop a step-by-step plan to introduce these foods in a controlled and comfortable environment, like at home or in therapy sessions.
  • Family Involvement: Involving the entire family in the process can make a significant difference. OTs can educate parents on strategies to support their child’s progress and create a positive mealtime environment.
  • Stress Management: The holiday season can be stressful, and stress can exacerbate food aversions. OTs can teach relaxation techniques and coping strategies to help children manage anxiety around food.
  • Goal Setting: Setting realistic goals and celebrating small victories is crucial in the process of overcoming food aversions. OTs can work with the child and their family to establish achievable goals and track progress.

The holiday season should be a time of enjoyment and togetherness, even for children with food aversions. Pediatric occupational therapy offers valuable tools and strategies to help children gradually expand their food preferences and become more comfortable with holiday meals. By addressing food aversions proactively, families can create positive holiday memories centered around delicious, nutritious food and cherished moments with loved ones. 

If you think occupational therapy can help your child, call Connect Pediatric Therapy at 402-413-1356 to set up a free consult call!

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