#12 - Feeding and Meal Prep with Your Sensory Child

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 05, 2018

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Feeding and Meal Prep with Your Sensory Child

In today’s episode, Rachel and Jessica talk briefly about nutrition and extensively about picky eating and feeding therapy. Children with sensory processing challenges often time have feeding issues and this episode dives into the why, the how, and the tools and strategies you can use to help your child become a successful eater. 

Children experiencing sensory processing difficulties may encounter challenges with feeding, including tasks involving oral motor skills. Occupational therapists (OTs), especially those specializing in nutrition and feeding, play a vital role in addressing these obstacles and offering support to enhance their daily functioning.


Signs Of Feeding Difficulties

Feeding is an essential daily activity for survival and carries significant importance. If your child experiences these difficulties during infancy, it could indicate potential challenges in the future.

Some of these challenges may include:

  • Challenges with latching during breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
  • Fussy or irritable due to colic.
  • Frequent ear infections.
  • Avoid chewing on toys with your mouth.
  • Avoidance of touching objects, discomfort when being touched by things, and messy play.
  • Dislike having their mouth or face wiped.
  • Consistently experiencing gagging or vomiting can also indicate an underlying swallowing deficit.

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is crucial to consult with their pediatrician. These signs could indicate sensory challenges related to feeding.


Feeding Challenges May Lead To Picky Eating

Children with sensory processing issues often have heightened sensitivity to food texture, taste, and presentation, especially if they've had previous challenges with that food. Consequently, it's common for these children to reject unfamiliar items or even slight variations of something they've encountered before.

Moreover, children struggling with oral motor skills and chewing may refuse food to avoid the challenges and discomfort. Avoiding exploration of different foods can lead to limited exposure and the development of habits focused on non-nutritious options, like sugary treats or processed snacks.

Recognizing that not all infants and toddlers go through picky eating phases is essential. It's important to distinguish whether it's a common occurrence or simply their way of asserting independence and pushing boundaries.


Helping Your Picky Eater Discover New Food Options

Nurture your child's culinary curiosity by introducing them to a diverse range of food choices in various settings. Here are several approaches to get started on this exciting journey.

Involvement In Preparing The Meal

Cooking with your child is an excellent way to get them excited about mealtime. Let them choose the ingredients and give step-by-step directions on creating their favorite recipe. You may even incorporate fun activities, like measuring spices or counting vegetables. It's an excellent opportunity for sensory exploration and building fine motor skills.

Introduce New Foods Using A Favorite Dish

Food chaining is a valuable strategy to help picky eaters expand their food preferences and embrace diverse nourishing options. Here's how it works: Encourage your child to sort foods by color using an ice cube tray, then explore each item together, discovering delightful surprises.

Remember that it's completely acceptable if certain foods aren't their preferred option. The main goal of food chaining is to cultivate a genuine admiration for a diverse array of culinary experiences.

Confront Sensory Challenges Head-On

It is not unusual for children with sensitivity to certain textures on their hands or elsewhere on their body to also feel discomfort when encountering those textures in their mouth. Participating in messy play can provide numerous advantages, including promoting greater ease with tactile sensations, improving fine motor skills, and reducing anxiety and hesitation when trying new things.

Create Visually Appealing Food

Elevate your mealtime experience with the artistry of creative food designs. By effortlessly using sandwich cutters, you can transform ordinary sandwiches into delightful shapes, adding a touch of whimsy and interactivity to your dining pleasure.

Keep A Food Journal

Provide your child a convenient binder or notebook to document notes, paste pictures, and illustrate their experiences with different foods to allow them to chronicle their culinary adventures, keeping track of how many times they've tried each food and rating their experiences.

Educate Your Child About Nutrition

Develop the habit of taking your child with you grocery shopping. Engage them in conversations about the diverse range of food options available. Moreover, make it a point to explore your neighborhood's farmers market to connect with local farmers who passionately grow and sell an extensive selection of fresh, flavorful produce.


Effective Strategies For Mealtime Participation

Getting children to sit at the dinner table can be a challenge that parents frequently encounter. However, by setting clear expectations and boundaries and using positive reinforcement, parents can effectively nurture the development of these crucial skills.

There are several worthwhile strategies to consider, including:

  • A timer to indicate the beginning and end of mealtime.
  • Implementing a rewards system.
  • Make mealtime fun with games like charades or ingredient guessing.
  • Talk with your child before a meal to inform them about the available food options.
  • Engaging in table setting and post-meal cleanup.
  • Assisting with dishwashing to provide extra tactile sensory stimulation.

These actions cultivate a sense of independence and personal investment for your child in their dining experience. Moreover, it offers a valuable understanding of your child's preferences, which proves advantageous when deciding on future menu choices.

In summary, creating a supportive and educational environment will help your child become an independent eater. Ultimately, providing various sensory experiences related to food and mealtime will empower them with the necessary skills to engage in healthy eating habits.





While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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