Activities and Strategies for Feeding
Activities and Strategies for feeding
Toddlers and older children who have difficulty with eating may have limited food preferences,
weak oral musculature and/or sensory-processing issues. The following are some simple
activities and strategies that can be used at home to help address those issues; by using some
of these suggestions in combination with a solid routine, you will likely see some significant
changes in your child’s willingness to eat. Keep mealtimes stress-free, playful and fun to help
your child succeed.
Sensory Activities and Strategies
• Body prep can be extremely helpful and provide sensory input to ensure better focus and
engagement with feeding. Some fun, active ways to stimulate a child before eating include:
- Animal walks, including frog jumps, bunny hops and bear or crab walks.
- Obstacle courses; use anything around the house to crawl, hop or jump over, through or
- Sing and dance; try “The Hokey Pokey,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” “If You’re
Happy and You Know It,” etc.
- Blow bubbles and run around to pop them.
• Play in a variety of sensory bins several times a week. Sensory bins help children learn about
new textures. If your child won’t even touch a non-preferred food on their plate, a sensory
bin with a variety of textures can held children identify their preferences, while exposing
them to new things.
• Build off of textures that your child prefers. Think about making small changes to the foods
they already like by changing the brand or flavor. This will help create a bridge to new foods
in a way that is comfortable.
• Take baby steps to encourage children to interact with non-preferred food. Begin with
touching, smelling and kissing the food; continue by licking it, biting and spitting it out, and
finally by biting and chewing the food. These steps can progress slowly in order for the child
to become more comfortable with exposure to new foods.
• Cook together. This is a no-pressure time that allows kids to explore new foods. They will
often feel brave enough to try something new in the fun and relaxed nature of the moment.
The key is to break down some of their sensitivity through the exploration of food.
• If your child is often over-stuffing their food, alternate crunchy bites of food with soft
choices. You can also give their cheeks a firm but gentle squeeze if the stuffing or spitting
out starts, or briskly stroke from the ears to the mouth a few times. This is not meant as a
punishment, but to give input to help them process the sensation of the food better.
Oral-motor development refers to the use and function of the lips, tongue, jaw, teeth and the
hard and soft palates. The movement and coordination of these structures is important in
speech production, safe swallowing and consuming various food textures. There are many
simple activities you can do without specific toys:
• Blow cheeks
• Blow soap bubbles
• Blow bubbles in water using a straw
• Stick out the tongue
• Play straw games, such as blowing a pom-pom across the table
• Blow a whistle, harmonica or other instrument
• Use a vibrating toothbrush; when brushing, help your child brush the sides and top of the
tongue and inside the cheeks as well to increase sensory input.
• Chew and blow bubbles with gum.