How to Introduce New Foods to Children with Speech and Language Issues

Many children acquire mild selective eating issues at some point in their development. This problem is generally resolved with a little coaxing and a lot of patience. However, children with speech issues can be extremely picky eaters because they find it difficult to express how they feel about hunger and eating certain foods. Children with speech and language disorders may reject foods based upon color, texture, smell, or a number of distinguishing factors. To avoid conflict and an all-out battle, you may allow your child to eat whatever he or she is willing to consume. However, this is a faulty tactic because finicky eaters are vulnerable to developing a range of significant health problems or eating disorders. If you are a parent or caregiver who has attempted to introduce new foods to your child with speech and language issues and have failed miserably, you are not alone. The first step in getting over this hurdle is to remember to practice patience and to keep an open mind. Overtime, applying these traits will ensure a safe and effective solution to the eating and feeding challenges your child is experiencing. The following information and strategies will help parents and care givers of children with speech and language challenges make mealtimes less problematic.

Causes for Feeding and Eating Issues

Children speech issues, such as stuttering, apraxia, Fragile X Syndrome, articulation disorder, and Expressive-Receptive Language Disorder (ERLD), cause children to misinterpret what is being said, appear as if they are ignoring you, or to develop social phobias. Children speech issues may also inhibit children from swallowing or articulating coordination complications. For example, your child may have trouble eating with a fork and may prefer a spoon. Eating is already a complex developmental skill that children struggle to learn. When this is coupled with a speech disorder that makes it difficult for children to express their likes and dislikes about foods or when they are hungry or full, nutritional imbalance and other dietary problems occur. An imbalanced diet can cause a range of significant health problems to include diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, developmental delays, gastrointestinal problems, and weight management issues to include obesity or anorexia nervosa. Children naturally restrict themselves to eating foods that make them feel comfortable or totally reject food because they do not have much of an appetite at the time. The goal is to learn how to communicate with your child so that your child can grow healthy and strong.

What Not to Do

Children do not want to be tricked eating new foods. For example, the strategy of hiding new foods in a child’s favorite food can backfire. Children are perceptive and can detect these additions. Also, a parent or caregiver should not force or threaten a child to “eat one more bite.” This does not make you or the child happy. Instead, it confuses a child’s internal cues about how much to eat. In addition, it is never a good idea to bribe your child into trying new foods. This actually teaches your child to not like the food because it reinforces what the child already thinks about the food. Lastly, never use snacks as a reward for eating foods the child does not want to try. Children will begin to associate the foods they do not like with the snacks they do like, which encourages poor eating habits.

Strategies to Introduce New Foods to Children With Speech Issues

Focus on Communication

Children with speech and language difficulties communicate differently. Parents and caregivers must use their active listening skills to foster interactive communication. You should concentrate on not showing your frustration. Instead, incorporate positive non-verbal cues that include softly applauding or making happy faces when you present your child with an unfamiliar food item. You can also lead by example by slowly placing the food in your mouth and making gestures that indicate how tasty the food is to eat. These techniques may not work right away, but remember to practice patience. Yelling and showing other forms of frustration may cause your child to become more anxious and resistant about trying new foods at mealtime.

Encourage Your Child to Touch New Foods

Introduce new foods with unfamiliar colors and textures by encouraging your child to touch and smell the food multiple times. Children born with speech and language challenges heavily rely on their other senses to tell them when something is safe or enjoyable. Allow your child to see the new food as often as it takes. Forcing the child to eat unwanted foods creates power struggles and reinforces fears. Be consistent with presenting new foods with pleasant aromas and that your child can easily handle at every meal.

Serve Small Portions

Do not present your child with normal size portions of foods they have never eaten. Begin with a tiny bite or a small piece of the food you would like the child to try. The key here is to give the same small portion of a new food at every meal until the child becomes comfortable with seeing new foods. You should then wait a few days and present the same foods again. As time goes on, increase the portion of the new food and decrease the portion of the favorite food.

Present Food Options at Mealtimes

Presenting children with speech or language disorders with food options makes them feel as if they have a say in what they eat. As children grow, they naturally become more independent. Allowing children to express themselves and make choices helps them increase their self-esteem and learning processes. For example, a way to introduce vegetables into your child’s diet would be to place bite size portions of different vegetables on a plate during mealtimes. Choose vegetables with bright colors and varying textures. Your child’s curiosity will eventually kick in, and he or she will choose which new vegetable to try.

Cook Together

Children love doing fun activities with their parents. Cooking together allows your child to feel more involved with their meal preparations. You can start by looking at recipes online together. Once a meal is chosen, take a trip to the grocery store and pick out the ingredients together. At home, allow the child to help you wash the vegetables, mix the batter, or pour the uncooked noodles in the pot. The more involved your child is in the meal preparation process, the more likely your child is to eat what is cooked.

Be Creative

Try serving vegetables and fruits with a favorite dip or sauce, or cut foods into shapes. You can also delight your child by making foods that look like one of your child’s favorite cartoon characters. Arts and crafts with foods is always fun. Try making a string necklace out of fruits or dry cereal. The goal is to make mealtime fun and to make your child feel comfortable about eating.


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