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Kids Eating Greens – It IS Possible!

03/19/2014 08:19AM ● Published by Hood Magazine

Photo courtesy of Heather DeWit

By Robin Mills, OTR/L, Children’s Care Hospital and SchoolImage title

Broccoli, peas, green beans – we all want our kids to eat their greens and other nutritious foods, but it can be a challenge. A key strategy is to introduce them in infancy or toddlerhood, before they get the word from other kids that they are "yucky." Another is to model eating nutritious food, keeping unhealthy alternatives to a minimum.

If these approaches haven't worked with your child, however, you may need to look at it from a sensory viewpoint. Your child may have sensory processing difficulties that are getting between her and healthy foods.

Kids with sensory modulation difficulties may respond or react to smells, tastes, and textures more extremely than peers or siblings. It is theorized that these children do not filter the information, and therefore can be bombarded by this sensory input. The smell of steamed broccoli may be a positive to you, but may actually make your child feel ill. The texture of peas could make her gag. Green beans, which most adults would consider a mild vegetable, might make your child cry and say her tongue is on fire! Plus, the sound of others chewing, or the sight of them talking with their mouths full, can make a child leave the table or scream in frustration.

Consider a typical meal from a child's sensory perspective: The family is seated around the table and everyone is talking. I need to eat a little fast so we can get sister to practice. Everyone is talking very loudly, and sometimes more than one person is talking at once – this hurts my ears. My brother is talking with his mouth full – this sight makes me see all the smooshed up food in his mouth, which makes me gag. My other brother is sitting too close to me and keeps bumping my arm as he eats – this makes my body cringe away from all the light touch. The smell of the asparagus hurts my eyes and tummy. Mom put a huge amount of food on my plate; she knows I hate to have my food touch each other, let alone be mixed together. Now I am busy, rushed, and told to eat my food. I cry, scream, hide under the table, run to my room, hit my brother, and/or throw my plate across the table. I am in overload and desperately need help pulling myself back together. I need to work on not over reacting, not getting overwhelmed, and helping my nervous system get organized.

If this sounds like your child, try being sensitive to his or her "overload" issues. Make meals as quiet and unrushed as possible, and dim the lights a bit if you can. Use divided plates and small helpings, and seat him or her where he or she will have plenty of "elbow room." Then talk with your doctor about a referral to an occupational therapist that specializes in sensory therapy. Treatment can pinpoint the challenges and provide strategies for a lifetime of happier, healthier meals.

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