• Samantha Goldman

Sensory Play for Picky Eaters

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Having a healthy relationship with food doesn’t only mean eating fruits and vegetables. It also means that you kid should be able to eat their meals without distress, eating a balance of food groups, and listening to their body. Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from parents in Florida about how to “get their child to eat” without distress.

Let’s first start by talking about what “distress” means. To me, it means that a child is unable to consume their meal without some form of a negative experience. This could be gagging, crying, avoiding, or even throwing foods, leading to an unhappy dining experience. This is going to be very different depending on each kid and their personalities or needs.

The sensory system is the part of our nervous system that interprets the sensations from outside (and inside) of our bodies. It interprets this information and then responds accordingly.

Our main sensory systems are: tactile (touching), visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), proprioceptive (body awareness), vestibular (movement), and interoception (organs). For a full breakdown of these check out this article from the Star Institute.

All of these can have an impact on eating.

Have you ever spent a great deal of effort to make your child a well-balanced, yummy meal only for them to push the plate away immediately? Not fun.

There is a bunch of reasons they may have pushed this meal away. One of them being their sensory system.

Essentially, their nervous system may have interpreted some of the sensory information (usually how it looks, the feel, the taste, or the smell) from that meal as “unsafe,” leading to one of the distressed responses we discussed above.

This is a main reason that children who are limited in the repertoire of foods they eat are referred to occupational therapy. As OTs, we can interpret why they are responding that way to meals, and help retrain the sensory system.

If you are concerned that your child may have difficulty processing certain sensory information, I recommend consulting with an occupational therapist before making any changes.

One way that occupational therapists help picky eater become accustomed to new foods is by using sensory play, also known as MESSY PLAY!

In sensory play, you offer safe ways for a child to interact with a food so that they learn that it is safe to consume.

Usually, we start small and gradually build up to more difficult textures and foods. Sometimes, we will even start by just playing with inedible textures to take the pressure off of eating!

Some examples:

· Offering a utensil, paintbrush, or popsicle stick to interact with the food

· Playing in the sand at the beach

· Writing letters in yogurt, salt, or pudding

· Making “kiss” marks with different colored sauces

· Creating food art

· Playing with play-doh, putty, or paint

· Making a “sensory” box with rice, beans, or sand

· Making a “sensory” box with rice, beans, or sand

This sensory play is one of the first steps to helping kids realize that eating can be fun!

Does this sound like something that may benefit your child? Find out how we can help at OT 4 ME by simply filling out this form, or emailing Samantha@theot4me.com

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Let’s make healthy fun,


Disclaimer: The information provided by OT 4 ME (“we,” “us” or “our”) on theot4me.com (the “Site”) is for general informational purposes only. The Site cannot and does not contain medical advice. Any medical information is provided as my/our personal experiences is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.


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