Tips for feeding special needs children

Most children outgrow picky eating between ages 5 and 7. Yet for a large percentage of developmentally delayed children, picky eating is a serious health problem.

While a picky eater rejects certain foods, children with a pediatric feeding disorder may consume only three to four types of foods and reject entire food groups, resulting in too few calories and nutrients for healthy growth and development.

“Typically, I see kids who avoid certain textures,” says early intervention nutrition specialist Jennine Sidler, RD, of Primary Nutrition Specialists in Frankfort. “Generally it’s the wet plant foods such as the fruit and vegetable group that the sensory kids avoid.”

The mother of three is sympathetic to parents’ frustration.

“Children who have sensory issues can have no other health issues and can present with sensory food behaviors. These children need to learn about food in the same way a typical child learns their ABC’s.”

Sidler’s tips for parents

  1. Parents and siblings should be role models. “Kids will only feel safe with that food if they see everyone else eating it, especially the parents,” she says.
  2. Toddlers should sit in a high chair that supports their posture with a spot for their feet. “Don’t let them … eat at a coffee table or even at a bar with their feet dangling.”
  3. Allow the child to explore each food’s texture. “To expose them to a lot of textures, play with rice, sand or whipped cream.”
  4. Have fun with food. Provide an interesting fun fork or spoon. Or play a game by hiding a blueberry inside a baked potato.
  5. Try food chaining-serve something familiar with the new. A child who eats Tator Tots, for example, can be introduced to another form of potato, such as hashbrowns. Then move to mashed potatoes and eventually to baked or boiled.
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