"Mom, I'm hungry!" Have you heard that phrase a lot this summer? If so, you're not alone!
If your child has sensory processing differences, he may prefer only certain tastes (sweet or salty) or textures (crunchy or smooth). Throw in the time and space constraints of school lunchboxes and mealtimes, and parents can have an exceptionally challenging situation in a matter of minutes!
To help you see matters from your child's standpoint, we've outlined five ways your child "processes," or receives, the food through their senses. Have you ever thought about the sensory input you receive through the simple act of eating?
This sensory input can actually help us self-regulate, or modify our emotions and behavior to match the demands of different situations. Depending on the type of food we eat, it may have a calming or an alerting effect.
Children who have difficulty staying focused or engaged may benefit from the alerting oral sensory input of crunchy, tart/sour, spicy, or cold foods.
Here are some lunchbox-friendly ideas of crunchy foods:
1. Pretzel rods
3. Snack mix
5. Apple slices
6. Veggie chips
8. Cinnamon toast
Don't forget to try these tart flavors:
10. Sour fruit gummies
11. Greek yogurt
For additional alerting input, consider these spicy foods:
To cool off, here are a couple more ideas:
15. Frozen fruit (such as grapes or blueberries)
Children who appear to be overly active (which we often refer to as "sensory seekers") may benefit from the calming oral sensory input of chewy, smooth/creamy, and warm foods.
Consider stocking up on the following chewy snacks before the school year starts. These foods require extra muscle action and help to organize the nervous system:
17. Dried fruit or fruit leather
18. Beef jerky
20. Chewy granola bars
21. Peanut butter (individual servings for dipping)
These warm foods may assist with calming and focus:
24. Hot cocoa
25. Sucking also provides calming oral sensory input. Try sucking a thicker liquid (such as applesauce, pudding, or a thick smoothie) through a straw.
All of these foods provide proprioceptive sensory input. Sometimes we call this "heavy work," because it requires extra muscle strength. Heavy work generally has a calming and organizing effect on the body.
Another benefit of proprioceptive input is that it may help reduce sensory-seeking behaviors, such as chewing on clothing or objects.
Depending on your child's age, he or she might be able to chew gum. This provides oral and proprioceptive input that can help kids (and adults!) remain focused and engaged.
Of course, use this with discretion and make sure to communicate with your child's teacher before giving this sensory strategy a try.
Each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to see which snacks work best for your child, but finding the right snacks can truly make a difference – especially in the school setting.
Is your child a picky eater? Perhaps they don't want to try new foods, or they tend to avoid several of the tastes/textures on the list above.
If so, your child may have sensory processing differences that are limiting the variety of foods they eat.
At PossAbilities Children's Therapy Group, we have therapists specializing in Sensory Processing Disorder, including feeding with Sequential Oral Sensory (S.O.S.) Approach.