The Warren Center, understands that there are many reasons why children with developmental delays and disabilities may have issues with food and eating. The Richardson-based nonprofit that provides therapy services for children with developmental delays and disabilities wants to help parents overcome these challenges by providing resources for introducing healthy and sensory-friendly snacks in honor of National Snack Food Month in February.
“For children with developmental delays and disabilities, their health may make it challenging or even uncomfortable to eat. For example, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder might be hypersensitive to loud crunchy foods, itchy textures or strong-smelling food. It is not unusual for children with autism to experience picky eating,” says Amy Spawn, executive director at The Warren Center. “They may request that food be arranged on their plate in a specific way or might have trouble trying new foods because they want everything to be the same. All children, including neurotypical ones, have favorite foods that are tried and true go-to meals, but with a little guidance from our team of experts it is possible to introduce nutritious snacks that are also sensory friendly.”
The experts from The Warren Center share a few tips for introducing sensory-friendly foods:
- Align new foods with your child's current tastes. Your child might be more inclined to try a new food that isn't too different from the flavors or textures they already love to eat. If they enjoy eating crunchy cheese puffs, consider adding carrots as a snack.
- Don't deceive your child into trying a new dish. If you trick your child into eating something new by hiding it in another food, chances are they will pick up on your deception and not like the new food. This can cause distrust and cause your child to be suspicious of new foods.
- Offer a taste. Tell your child that the food is there if they want to try it, but they don't have to until they're ready. Be patient, this approach will take time.
- Lead by example. Your child will be more inclined to try a new food if they see other members of their family eating and enjoying it too.
- Share a story about the food. Use your imagination and share a story about the new food that focuses on how it can help your child grow big and strong. You can lean in on your child’s favorite book or TV character to share how much they also enjoy eating this dish.
If you are struggling with your child's picky eating, you may need professional help. Ask your child's healthcare provider if they can recommend a feeding specialist or feeding therapy program in your area. If your child is under three and is receiving Early Intervention Services, you may fold feeding therapy into their program.
The experts at The Warren Center have identified sensory-friendly, healthy snacks, broken down by texture below.
- Crunchy foods: Most people immediately think of "crunchy foods," like chips, crackers, or even candy — but there are healthy alternatives out there that can satisfy your child's taste buds, sensory needs, and nutrition, such as apples, carrots, kale chips, banana chips and crispy cauliflower tots.
- Squishy Foods: Children with autism usually have a different texture fixation and love to eat foods that are squishy or creamy. These kinds of foods are often messy, but they can be very nutritious. Some healthy, squishy foods include mashed potatoes, mangos, peanut or almond butter, egg noodles, mashed bananas, avocadoes, and cottage cheese.
- Runny Foods: These foods are often more liquid than solid. Your child might enjoy the way ice cream feels going down, but it's doesn't provide any nutritional value. Instead, offer your child these healthy alternatives: yogurt, tomato soup, potato soup, smoothies, pureed fruits and protein shakes.
- Soft Foods: There is a difference between soft foods and squishy foods. Soft foods are easy to chew but not slimy, like bread versus noodles. Consider introducing soft foods like shredded fish, soggy whole grain cereals, warm, cooked fruits, roasted vegetables, scrambled eggs, beans and tofu.
The Warren Center’s team of highly skilled therapists is ready to help children with developmental delays and disabilities reach their full potential. For more information visit the nonprofit’s website or call 972-490-9055 to learn more.