For most of us, mealtime is a heaven-send. Food cures cases of the grumps. The varieties of flavors and textures trigger positive chemical releases in the brain. Filling your stomach creates a sense of satisfaction and overall contentment. What’s not to enjoy? Well, anyone who knows a picky eater, especially if you’re the parent of one, you know that mealtimes can be everything but pleasant. And it goes one step past picky when you’re dealing with a child that struggles with eating because of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
Picky eaters usually grow out of the phase of turning their noses up at their plates. But Sensory Kids usually don’t grow out of that pesky stage. Imagine someone refusing to eat anything but chicken nuggets and Mac and Cheese until they’re in their twenties (true story). They tend to have a harder time with the texture of food than they do the taste. Mushy foods top the list of offenders with foods such as mashed potatoes, oatmeal, rice, beans or eggs. Children with SPD tend to gag a lot while eating or while watching others eat and bite more off than they can chew in a very literal meaning of the phrase. Whether in an attempt to minimize the discomfort by getting it all down at once or the inability to gauge their limits, they try to swallow chunks of food that are way too big. This problem is compacted with children who have low muscle tone in their cheeks and jaws, making chewing arduous and frustrating. All these cues are difficult for them to interpret so they express their feelings with difficult behavior (and by that I mean total meltdowns) at the table and refusal to eat the food prepared for them. So here are a few suggestions to help minimize mealtime meltdowns.