Sensory Input During Mealtimes
Made up of different activities and movements scheduled throughout the day to help your Complex Learner stay regulated and prepare their bodies and mind for the tasks at hand, a sensory diet may already be a key component of your parenting toolkit. You see the benefits each day when you use swinging in the morning to help wake your child up or heavy work before bedtime to help calm them down. But did you know you might be missing an additional opportunity for providing sensory input? During mealtimes!
So, how does crunchy granola or a berry smoothie factor into this? Proprioceptive input can be easily added into your daily routine as part of your child’s sensory diet through food and drinks. We spoke with Becca Olivo, an Occupational Therapist at the Wolf School, to learn more about this and find out how you can add sensory input during mealtimes!
Proprioception activities play an important role in sensory diets and are considered a “safe” type of sensory input. Whereas vestibular input like swinging, rotating and changing your head position can easily become too much for children with sensory processing difficulties, proprioception activities typically only benefit a child. So when it comes to your child’s sensory diet, the more proprioceptive input, the better!
Proprioception is a powerful type of sensory input that can have both calming and alerting effects. While common proprioceptive activities typically involve “heavy work” for the whole body like jumping jacks, or pushing or pulling heavy objects, you can also incorporate “heavy work” focused on providing sensory input specifically using the mouth.
Heavy Work At Meal Time
When thinking about your child’s sensory diet, it’s important to think of the whole body. You often want to provide opportunities for sensory input in as many ways as possible and by providing sensory input during mealtimes, you’re adding an easy way for your child to get more of that input to help them stay regulated.
The benefits of adding this “heavy work” at mealtime can truly make a difference in your child’s day. By providing children with proprioceptive input throughout the day, their bodies become regulated making it easier to maintain an optimal state for learning and focused attention.
You might be wondering how this can be done with food but the truth is, you might already know! Do you ever find yourself chewing gum at work when you need to concentrate? That’s an example of proprioceptive input! With the right food options (crunchy, chewy, etc.), your child can prepare their body for something that might be more challenging or stressful in their day. Take a look below for how to incorporate sensory input into every meal.
- Dry cereal
- Thick smoothie
- Toasted Bagel
- Fruit leather
- Beef jerky
- Carrot and celery sticks
- Pita chips
On the go ideas:
- Drinking through a straw
- Chewing gum
- Lollipop or hard candy
- Ice chips
While you might be eager to try out some of these suggestions, you might also be wondering how you can incorporate these ideas when your child is a picky eater. Becca advises starting with things you know your child likes. For example, if they love peanut butter, try putting that on a rice cake for breakfast or mix it into a chocolate banana and peanut butter smoothie! Take something you know they love and see what other forms it comes in. If they love apples – there’s applesauce, dried apple slices, fruit leather, apple-flavored gum, and more! You might be surprised at the variety that’s available!
Just like what your child may enjoy eating is individualized, so is their reaction to different types of stimuli. As you try out these different food options, take note of how your child reacts. Do they appear more calm, alert, or mentally organized? Maybe a bag of mixed nuts was a great snack but the granola was too crunchy or the ice chips were just too cold for your child. Don’t be afraid to test, add, or eliminate different foods!
A sensory diet is most effective when it’s specifically curated for your child and adding sensory input during mealtimes just makes it even more individualized! Looking for more help and guidance? We always recommend touching base with your child’s occupational therapist for specific sensory diet activities that are the most beneficial for your child given their specific sensory profile!
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