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Healthy Eating For Children with Dyspraxia/DCD: A Helping Hand For Mums

Series 1 of 3

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 a healthy diet and mealtime 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 and one that can leave everyone feeling drained. This is a real struggle for busy mums trying to deal with so many other issues that make up the daily routine and can be particularly tough at this time of year when everyone is cranking it up after the Christmas break and trying to settle back in to the normal routine of school, homework and activities etc.

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 of the box about FOOD!

First of all it’s good to know that you are not alone! There are lots of mums (including me) 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 a number of factors – good humour, the right utensils, trial and error, picking your battles, remembering that it’s important to take time out when the going gets tough, patience, creativity, etc. Oh and a few rewards & treats for everyone along the way. I know I have spent many a day tearing my hair out trying to get one son to eat while padlocking the press on the other. This can result in everyone feeling the strain but here’s some sound advice that I received which has helped me enormously along the way!

Firstly, a few things to remember:

  • It takes approximately 10+ times before your taste buds decide whether they really like the food or not (and not ten bites), so charting the number of times is a useful tool to try out.
  • This is a multisensory experience and as such needs a great deal of help and support! So if in doubt consult with the experts and tap into their experience, expertise & knowledge. Dieticians and occupational therapists can advise with useful tips & tricks to use and you can tailor these to suit your own child’s needs!!
  • Also it’s important to realise that it’s good to have an opinion on things and food 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. 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 & offer alternative suggestions!! I hadn’t thought about the” why’s”, I was just so focused on getting the food eaten that when I finally asked some questions it helped me understand why my youngest son didn’t like “green trees” (broccoli)- he just couldn’t bear to look at them. Or why my eldest hates tomatoes, they made such a mess on his plate and so I stopped battling started talking more and listening. We had a chart on the kitchen noticeboard which instead focused and 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. Now Rome wasn’t built in a day so I soon realised that this will always be a part of our lives but I need to devalue the importance I placed on winning the battle, ease up and compromise. And in introducing this thinking for us, I’ve opened up to asking more about other children’s lunchboxes and their likes & dislikes. At the same time, I started chatting with other parents for their own stories which has helped me when my creative juices are running dry!

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

  • Planning your meals/lunchboxes in advance with the kids/whole family involved often 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, e.g. see how many different colours you can eat in a day) along with the older ones deciding in advance that we’ll have soup for lunch on Sunday and chicken for dinner on Monday gives a real sense of positivity. Along with introducing themed nights where its Mexican/Chinese night with lots of vegetables in a stir fry and everyone tries using chopsticks can be a novel way to relieve the monotonous routine of food related issues
  • Spending time, getting them involved in preparing, cutting vegetables & fruit and the cooking. This gives them an opportunity to learn about food (even if that means they have to wear gloves, or cover their mouth and nose!). Try using specially adapted cutlery, unbreakable crockery and the right clothes, aprons etc can help. REMEMBER that before you start, spills, knocks, falls and messes are all part of the learning process. It’s important to smile and laugh through this process to keep the experience a happy and positive one so avoid the evening rush when trying this one!
  • Googling interesting/funny facts about the particular food their sensitive to can help them think/see it differently. It also gives them something to tell their friends and teacher in school.
  • Giving them responsibility at mealtimes makes them feel part of it, but don’t stick rigidly to this if he/she is having an “off” day. We all have those days where it’s an uphill battle and kids are no different. Also “helping hands” to safely use gadgets such kettles, teapots & toasters – watching YouTube clips I found helped a lot when talking through “instructions” were too confusing
  • Sitting together as a family at the same time (where humanly possible), even if it’s only for 10 minutes over breakfast for instance is a very good way to be a role model for good eating habits. This is often tricky but it does help & it can ease stress. For example, on a good morning, you could take turns to talk about your day ahead or the day’s events at dinner time rather than the food on the plate. This can be a really good distraction while you’re eating.

by Catherine Whelan

If you have any healthy eating tips for child with dyspraxia, please contact us at info@dyspraxia.ie.

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