You may also be interested in:
- the webinar that focused on food sensitivities: Picky Eating and Autism – Imagine a mealtime without chicken fingers
- Our survey on food preferences for picky eaters: See how your picky eater compares to others in what foods they prefer.
Replay video of the webinar:
An important factor to consider when it comes to your picky eater child is the mood.
We have previously touched on other things to consider. In this article, we are going to explore how the mood at the table during mealtime is important.
Picky eating isn’t a choice, your child is also feeling the distress at mealtime the same way you do.
You have to be patient with them and help them see mealtime in a different light. We want to introduce the concept of joy and pleasure to your mealtime.
If you are dining at a large table with lots of family members, there’s already so much joy. However, if you are a smaller family, it could be a little harder for you to have a joyful meal.
Research indicates that stress affects our digestion
They asked 2 groups of students to participate. The first group had to fill out an annoying and complicated survey about public transportation. After they did the survey, they were tired and anxious. There was a prize promised and since the survey was hard, they were feeling the stress caused by losing. Afterward, they were taken to lunch in a large room with comfortable chairs, good music, and good food. The mealtime didn’t go on forever either, it was just about the right period to dine.
The second group was taken to a spa at first. They got massages and facials (the whole spa package) and afterward were taken to the university cafeteria. Like all cafeterias, it was loud and busy and the food was nothing spectacular.
In the study, the first group digested more easily than the second group, showing that stress before eating doesn’t affect digestion as much as stress during the meal
This is one of the many studies that show the relationship between the stomach and the brain.
In another study that was done over a decade, parents and children who expressed that their mealtime was unpleasant ended up with gastrointestinal issues. That on its own is a big enough word to realize something is wrong. This has a long-term effect on your health.
Now let’s explore options to reduce complications during mealtime for our children on the spectrum.
1. We could help reduce their sensory overload at the table by:
- Quiet voices
- Plastic or wood dinnerware
- Dim the lights
2. Increasing fun at the table:
- Take them to the dollar store and tell them to pick what they want to eat with
- Allow them to select what should be set at the table
- Fun size items to eat with
- Lay food in non-food patterns (i.e make funny faces or cute designs)
- Help prepare the meal (be prepared for a mess)
You can always use Google to come up with fun designs for your plates!
3. Grazing Vs. a big meal
Scientists have experimented with this in different countries, where they eat, at different times during the day, with different portions. The results? It does not affect your stomach.
Whether you are eating several times during the day with small portions, have a large meal at the end of the day, or have 3 decent size meals during the day, it doesn’t impact your health negatively. Thus, you can allow your kid to graze during the day if that’s what they are comfortable with.
4. Portions size matters!
Smaller portions are easier to handle emotionally, so try giving them smaller portions and see if they enjoy that more. Studies show that you will eat better if your portion is small.
There is something that our brain does when the portion is big and thinks it’s a bigger deal than what it is. You could put 2 tablespoons of what they don’t like to eat and to them, that’s too much.
We suggest that instead, you put 2 teaspoons of it on a larger plate next to what they do enjoy eating.
5. Experiment with location
If you are always eating at the table, how about going for a picnic and eating outside? Or on the floor or eat in the living room?
On the floor is also easier for kids because they can change their position more freely.
On those days that you are changing your setting, you can experiment with the food they don’t like, like broccoli.
6. Food play:
Food play is also an option to consider. When you engage the kids in preparing the food or do activities with food, it familiarizes them with it. Like if you built things with vegetables.
That sort of engagement causes them to be less stressed at the table. Because when they see the food, it’s no longer an unfamiliar object sitting in front of them, they know where it came from and how it was made.
- Play with food when you are making dinner
- Allow the child to play with food while you are preparing
- Experiment with a play session during the day where instead of playing with cars you play with food
We know that the first problem for them is the food itself, but what’s the second one?
Staying still at the table.
When the kids are acting in distress, it’s important to remember that they are not doing that to hurt us. However, they know behaving that way will get them what they want which is your attention. To them, your attention means they exist.
Their attention span is also short, so they don’t like sitting in one position for a very long time.
Here are some things to consider:
- They can go run around
- Clear timing (be back in a minute)
- Praise upon return
- Rewards at the end
Therefore, in an effort to compromise you could tell them it’s ok for them to leave but they have to come back. This also tells them that you aren’t furious at them for leaving which helps the overall mood. If the kid is nonverbal, this pep talk isn’t going to be that effective, what you could do however is that you can tell them when you come back I’m going to give you this little sticker star as a reward. Getting something nice in return is something they understand.
Boost serotonin and resilience to stress
- Go for a walk
- Listen to music
- Sensory pairings
- Multisensory core protocol at the table
There was an experiment in Europe, they were showing kids pictures of chocolates and bars. Beautiful images and asked the kids who were between the age of 11-13 to describe the taste of these photos. Is it smooth or a little rough because of the nuts and so on. They were asked to have a sensory description of this food that they could only see pictures of. Afterward, they were given the actual chocolates and they could have as many as they wanted. The scientist said that if we were to have sensory information of the food before eating it, it will prompt opening to more interesting food and new food as well.
Mendability has its own protocols on how to help with food and dinner time in the worksheets we provide our parents with.
Check out our program page to see if this is the right program for you.
This boy is 14 years old. He started doing Mendability, an implementation of Sensory Enrichment Therapy, and this video was taken 2 months later.
He was never able to eat any solids.
One of the benefits of Sensory Enrichment therapy is that an improvement in the processing of sensory inputs. Textures are no longer a problem when eating. Background noise can be filtered out. Clothes can be worn without discomfort. Crowded places can be attended normally. Engine noises are no longer a problem. Certain pitches, colours can be tolerated easily, etc.
For $49/month you can do sensory enrichment at home with your child, with bi-weekly check-up appointments with specialists.
Mendability is a new, low-cost, clinically proven therapy for autism.
In randomized control trials, children who added Sensory Enrichment therapy to their existing programs were 6X more likely to improve by 5 points or more on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale.
Instead of working on specific symptoms directly, Mendability takes a step back. By inducing an enhanced state of plasticity in the brain, we enable the brain to treat itself.
As a result, it accelerates all other forms of therapy.