Melanie Potock is an amazing speech pathologist and ‘real food’ advocate for kids (check our her blog mymunchbug.com). I was so excited when she agreed to write this super helpful guest post. Thanks Melanie!
As a pediatric feeding therapist or “food coach for kids”, I was smiling as I read Karen Le Billon’s new book, Getting to Yum. Truthfully, it was more than just a happy look on my face, I have to admit I was downright giddy. Nothing makes me happier than helping children become more adventurous eaters in a fun and family-centered way. That’s exactly the theme in Getting to Yum: Involve the whole family in taste-training games and help kids tune into the joy of discovering new foods!
But what’s a parent to do if their child is a sensitive eater and gags at the slightest taste or touch of a new food on their tongue? While gagging isn’t life-threatening (read Karen’s description of gagging vs. choking) it certainly is an unpleasant reflex that reinforces one thing: NOT eating. If a child gags enough, it leads to vomiting. Enough said. We don’t want to go there.
- Start with a pea-sized bite, preferably cut into a cube. The cube shape helps kids feel the food in their mouths because the edges provide more tactile input and is easier to control.
- Teach your child to place it directly on the molars. Most kids take a hesitant bite with the front teeth so that the tongue tip can push it right out – patooey! Or, it falls directly from there backward onto the tongue and that’s often when the gagging starts. Instead, give your child better oral motor control by encouraging them to pick up the piece with their fingers and place it where a dinosaur chews – on his molars – so that it’s closer to the back of the throat to be swallowed. Little kids really get this – they can picture a dinosaur chewing with his “dino-teeth” and love that silly analogy. “Put it on your dino-teeth and chew like a T-Rex!”
- Chew HARD! Hesitant eaters chew hesitantly. They lightly tap their teeth on the surface of the food and consequently let it fall onto the tongue – and then they gag. Like a dinosaur, chew hard! With my younger clients in feeding therapy, we pound the table with our fists when we chew a brand new food to ensure that we are also chewing with force. This deliberate chewing provides the proprioceptive input that tells our brain exactly where the food is in our mouth and thus, decreases the tendency to gag.
- Pick up a glass of water with a STRAW. As adults, when we reach for a glass of water while eating a meal, we swallow much of the food in our mouths before the rim of the glass reaches our lips. To teach this learned behavior, a straw in the glass will help your child close his mouth and propel the chewed food backward to the throat to be swallowed.
- Take another small sip to hose down the tongue. The straw also acts like a garden hose, washing any tickly spots on the tongue and signaling the brain to swallow again. In fact, it’s impossible to swallow and gag at the same time.
Whether your child is a garden-variety picky eater, an emerging foodie or perhaps a child with special needs who is in feeding therapy, always focus on what your child CAN do and progress from there. Once the pea-sized bites are swallowed with ease, progress to bean-sized bites until eventually your munch bug is tasting a comfortable, age-appropriate bite and asking for more. This same strategy can be implemented with toddlers or teenagers, but let’s face it – it’s probably best to forgo the dinosaur language at that point. Just remember to take it step-by-step and follow the Getting to Yum guidelines for keeping it fun!
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist, an international speaker on the topic of picky eating, and the author of the award winning parenting book, Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food! With over 18 years’ experience treating children with feeding difficulties, Mel’s approach to developing feeding skills includes the fundamentals of parenting in the kitchen, such as how to avoid mealtime debates and creating more joyful mealtimes, even with a hesitant eater. Mel embraces her work with families with an open heart and a touch of humor. After all, the journey to more adventurous eating should be celebrated each step of the way! She has also produced the award winning children’s CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food as a tool to keep mealtimes joyful and family centered. Connect with Melanie at My Munch Bug on facebook and twitter or email her at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.