Healthy Eating for Dyspraxic Children: Part 1

Being a mum is a tough job but with fussy eaters, and sensory processing disorder or sensory related issues, the pressure of getting the balance right between healthy eating and meal time battles can be a real challenge, for everyone involved.

The co-ordination, chewing, and swallowing of food uses approximately 26 muscles as well as a lot of physical effort, energy and often emotions. So it can really make for a very tiring, unpleasant experience that can leave everyone feeling drained. This is a real struggle for busy mums and can be particularly tough at this time of the year when everyone is trying to settle back into a normal routine after the Christmas break.

So, whether it’s a child who never feels hungry or one who has no full button it means you’re constantly planning and thinking outside the box about food and healthy eating.

First of all, you are not alone! There’s lots of mums in the same situation as you. And as no two kids are alike, it is not a one fits all solution – most of it is a combination of good humour, the right utensils, trial and error, picking your battles and remembering that it’s important to take time out when the going gets tough. The days spent wanting to tear your hair out while trying to get a child to eat can result in a lot of strain but following a little sound advice can make a huge difference.

A Few Things to Remember:

  1. It takes approximately 10+ times before your taste buds decide whether they really like the food or not, so charting the number of times is a useful tool to try out.
  2. This is a multi-sensory experience and as such needs a great deal of help and support! So if in doubt, consult with experts. Dieticians and occupational therapists can advise with useful tips & tricks to use and you can tailor these to suit your child’s needs.
  3. It’s important to realise that it’s good to have an opinion on things and healthy eating is no exception to this, that’s what makes us unique.

Having two sons who both “need” my support more than peers of their own age, means there’s always different challenges. Healthy eating, and food related issues is one that’s a constant and in talking to my sons about their food likes/dislikes and why, gave them the chance to explain it to me. The result for me means I have to tune in more, listen and offer alternative suggestions. I hadn’t thought about the “why’s”, I was just so focused on getting the food eaten.

We had a chart on the kitchen noticeboard which we worked together on visually moving things from the dislike column to the like and, little by little, it became less about the meal and more about increasing the variety of food choices we had. As a result I began to relax more around food and it became less of an issue.

5 Top Tips to Help with Super Sensitive Smells, Tastes, Textures & Looks:

  1. Planning your meals in advance and getting the whole family involved gives them a sense of ownership and control. Charting this with a long list of options also helps for younger ones (through pictures, stickers & colours etc.) and older ones to decide in advance giving a real sense of positivity.
  2. Spend time getting them involved in preparing, cutting vegetables and fruit and the cooking process. This gives them an opportunity to learn about food. Try using specially adapted cutlery, unbreakable crockery and the right clothes. Remember, it’s important to smile and laugh through this process to keep the experience a happy and positive one.
  3. Googling interesting and funny facts about the particular food they’re sensitive to can help them see and think of it differently.
  4. Giving them responsibility at meal times makes them feel part of it, but don’t stick rigidly to this if he/she is having an “off” day.
  5. Sitting together as a family at the same time (where possible), even if it’s only for 10 minutes over breakfast for instance, is a good way to be a role model for good eating habits.

Blog provided by the Irish Association of Dyspraxia as part of their Healthy Eating blog series.