Healthy eating for kids will look different for every child. Many children may have additional eating and dieting needs. This can come in a variety of forms. For example, your child may have sensory, dietary, oral or motor needs. In these cases, you child may require alternative food choices or eating utensils to ensure healthy eating habits.
Does your child have an intolerance to food? Children may present with a food intolerance if their digestive system finds it challenging to digest foods. Healthy eating for your child is important as it can help reduce the illness due to these food items. Food intolerance involves areas such as an intolerance to milk, gluten and sulphates. In these instances, healthy eating for your child would involve identifying and avoiding food that contains such allergens.
Alternatively, your child may have a food sensitivity. In this case, your child may present anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, eczema or other reactions around food. This may lead to avoiding foods or overeating. You may see this if your child has needs such as autism and OCD. This can lead to a restricted diet or nutrient deficiency.
Because of this nutrient deficiency you may see your child eating items which are not edible or unusual such as sand, paper and salt (pica). As long as your child is getting the nutrients they need and is growing well, there is little need to be concerned. Healthy eating for your child may be enhanced using dietary supplements In all cases, it is important to seek professional medical advice.
Many parents express concern over healthy eating for their children. Your child’s sensory experience of food can have an influence on their eating behaviour. For example, factors such as the smell, feel colour and taste of food can influence your child’s perceptions.
Routine and repetition can also have a major influence on your child’s eating habits. Children with autism and OCD have a need for repetition. Introducing changes can sometimes lead to anxiety and subsequent eating disorders. If your child is in a routine of unhealthy eating habits, it could be beneficial to gradually introduce other healthy foods into their diet.
Does your child have reduced mobility? Healthy eating for children with limited mobility may require special eating utensils and food items. Your child may experience challenges with oral motor, swallowing or a reduction in arm movement. These factors can make feeding times challenging. This may make it challenging for your child to coordinate the movements needed during feeding and eating times. Alternatively, your child may experience challenges with chewing and swallowing food. Having easy chew foods, bibs and other utensils that make the eating process smoother can help your child.
There are various strategies that you could use to encourage your child’s healthy diet. This includes:
• Scaffolding – Scaffolding is a method where you gradually teach your child a new skill. This could be through modelling a desired eating behaviour. Continuously showing healthy eating for kids and then stepping back to observe if they copy this behaviour would be an example of scaffolding the eating process.
• Managing obsessions and stability – Many children display different eating habbits due to a need for sameness and control. Finding a way to divert your child’s obsession to a different activity can help to ease their obsession around food
• Reducing the sensory overload- Reducing the sensory overload and having a clearly marked space for eating can help your child.
• Clear routine and space- having a clearly marked space and routine for eating time can help your child. This can be done by using timetables, timers and visual objects.
• Food diary- taking a note of what your child eats and when can help you to identify any environmental, dietary of behavioural factors that have an influence on your child.
• Rewards- Rewarding healthy eating for kids can help encourage the desired eating behaviour.
• Seek appropriate advice- it is important to seek medical advice from a GP, dietician or other medical professional in all cases, and support from medical personnel for the special diet
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