Picky Eaters & Problem Feeders: How Can a Therapeutic Preschool Program Help?

If you are a parent to young children, you know that snacks and mealtime can be challenging for little ones. If your child has problems with eating, it can be challenging to know whether the problems require additional intervention. If your child experiences developmental delays, including feeding challenges, then they may benefit from a therapeutic preschool program that provides support with key developmental skills or feeding therapy.

What is a picky eater?
Many children go through a phase of “picky eater” tendencies. This does not necessarily mean that they have a feeding difficulty. An example of a picky eater behavior is eating a limited number of different foods. This might be approximately 30 different foods (perhaps more).

What is a problem feeder?
A problem feeder requires more intensive intervention than a picky eater. While a picky eater may only eat approximately 30 different varieties of foods, a problem feeder will typically eat fewer than 20 different varieties of foods. If a child who is a problem feeder has problems with textures of food, they may avoid an entire group of foods, based on the texture (e.g. mushy foods). There are several other symptoms that problem feeders may exhibit, and symptoms will vary from child to child.

How can feeding therapy in a therapeutic preschool program help?
If a child is enrolled in a therapeutic preschool program, they may receive one-on-one feeding therapy during the day. These services may be provided by a speech-language pathologist during snack time (so that they observe the child eating at a natural time throughout the day). During therapy, they will set goals for the child to expand the number of foods that the child eats, build independent feeding skills that are appropriate for that child’s age level, and create positive routines for snacks and meals in a group setting. A therapeutic preschool program can address each of these key areas.

Play with your food!
If a child experiences issues with feeding, it may be due to the sensory input aspect of different foods. For instance, a child who is a problem feeder may experience sensory processing issues with foods that have a mushy texture (e.g. oatmeal or mashed potatoes) or foods that have a strong smell (e.g. spicy food or garlic). During feeding therapy in a therapeutic preschool program, teachers might encourage children to play or finger paint with their food, in order to make it appear more approachable. This is a fun activity that allows children to become more comfortable with different textures of food, in order to improve their sensory processing and integration.

Introduce new foods
The therapeutic preschool program teacher may also introduce new foods onto the child’s plate during snack time to introduce them to new food groups, colors, textures, etc. The teacher might pose this as a game, especially if the child typically becomes very upset by new foods.

Remember, every child is different, so some strategies will work better than others, depending on their unique abilities and needs. One way to encourage success in feeding therapy in a therapeutic preschool program is by creating full-family involvement. If a parent also uses feeding therapy strategies at home, this reinforces consistency in the process. Parents are also the experts on their children, so their involvement in the therapeutic process is highly important. If there is a successful strategy for feeding, the parent can share this with their child’s teacher (and vice versa).

Would you like to learn more?
Some therapeutic preschool programs will employ techniques from the SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) approach to feeding therapy. This approach is widely used, due to its success in helping children with feeding challenges. At CST Academy, our teachers and therapists incorporate elements of the SOS approach in our feeding therapy sessions, in order to help children overcome feeding issues. Contact us at 773-620-7800 to learn more about our therapeutic preschool program and feeding therapy services.