The last week of April is Every Kid Eat Healthy Week, which celebrates health and wellness achievements. It shines a spotlight on the great actions schools and families are taking to improve the health and wellness of their kids and the link between nutrition, physical activity, mental health, and learning. Occupational Therapist Kayla Mogg OTD, OTR/L, shares important tips with us!
As we celebrate Every Kid Healthy Week this year, I would like to share several tips to increase positive mealtime experiences for you and your child. As an occupational therapist at Bierman, I often work with children to expand their diet. When a child eats a limited variety of foods, mealtimes can be a major source of stress for both the child and the child’s family. If you consider your child a “picky” eater, keep reading!
Create a no-pressure environment.
During Every Kid Eat Healthy Week, the first (and perhaps, most important) recommendation is to create a dynamic at mealtimes void of pressure. As tempting as it can be to say, “Just try one bite” or “If you take a bite of broccoli, then you can have a cookie,” try to avoid these types of statements. Instead, talking with your child about food in a fun and positive way can lead to a better relationship with food in the long run; occasionally, throughout the meal, talk about the colors, shapes, and textures on your plate. This is a fun way to have your child notice and begin to explore new foods without the entire meal revolving around whether your child takes that bite of broccoli. Often children surprise us by interacting with new foods when we least expect it!
Provide structure and routine.
Children thrive with routine, and mealtimes are no different! While this does not mean every snack or mealtime must look identical, there are several components to include to establish a regular routine so your child knows what to expect. While there are many tips on creating positive mealtime routines, here are a couple to get you off to a good start!
Offer snacks and meals 2.5 – 3 hours apart. Offering food at consistent intervals helps your child know when to expect it next without having it available 24/7. This will likely help to decrease “grazing” or snacking on foods throughout the day and, in turn, increase appetite before the next mealtime.
You decide what to prepare, and your child decides which foods and how much to eat. I often talk to families who prepare multiple meals at dinner time to ensure their child eats something. This is completely understandable…of course, you want your child to eat and be healthy! To avoid the stress of preparing anything and everything your child may want in hopes they will eat, try offering at least one preferred food and the meal you make for the rest of the family. Your child will see everyone else eating the same foods while still having access to their preferred foods within the context of that meal. It’s a win-win!
Make it fun, not only during Kids Eat Healthy Week, but every day!
Last but not least, have fun! Including food in play is an integral part of my feeding therapy sessions, and this is something you can try at home too. Here are some examples:
- Read books about food.
- Paint or color pictures of different foods.
- Make stamps using fruits or vegetables. Some good options are carrots, potatoes, and apples.
- Count, stack, or sort foods by category.
- Cut foods into fun shapes using mini cookie cutters.
- Make a picture scene or silly face out of various foods.
- Include your child in grocery shopping and meal preparation.
If you are concerned about your child’s feeding habits, reach out to your child’s pediatrician for the next steps. The source of selective eating habits differs among children and often requires a multidisciplinary team approach for the best results!
Thanks for celebrating Every Kid Eat Healthy Week with us! Interested in learning more about Bierman Autism Centers? Call 800-931-8113 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan University with a B.S. in Exercise Science, Kayla attended Huntington University and graduated with her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy in 2020. She has worked in early intervention and outpatient pediatrics for the past two years. She enjoys working at Bierman for the team approach, the opportunity to grow as a therapist, and of course, the best part…to help little ones grow to their full potential!