Feeding Development 101

Feeding development is a complex topic that can be confusing for many parents to navigate. With hundreds of information sources out there, it becomes difficult to understand your child’s feeding development and the strategies you can use to help raise a healthy eater.

Below we offer some helpful tips to support your child’s feeding during mealtime as well as red flags that indicate a need schedule your child in for a feeding evaluation with a licensed speech-language pathologist.

Tips for Mealtimes:

  • Have your child participate in food preparation and clean-up, this will help exposure them to sensory experiences around foods!
  • Always offer at least 3 different foods: 1 protein, 1 carbohydrate, and 1 fruit or vegetable at each meal (and snack time).
  • Having a new food on the child’s plate is good exposure! The child is not expected to eat all foods introduced but will begin to have sensory experiences related to new foods such as smell, touch, and sight. It may take up to >15 exposures to a new food before a child will try it!
  • Let your child have seconds or thirds of what he/she likes, even if they ignore the rest of the food on their plate.
  • Schedule meals and snacks and do not allow grazing in-between, only water.
  • Use language to describe foods during meal-times that do not have emotions or feelings attached to them. Avoid phrase such as “you like it,” or “your don’t like it.” Instead, use descriptor language such as describing the foods color, texture, taste, and smell.

Red flags for a feeding evaluation:

  • Choking, coughing, gagging, spitting up, or other frequent signs of distress during eating (crying, arching back, irritability, retching).
  • Failure to transition to baby food purees by 8-10 months.
  • Failure to transition to any table food by 12-months.
  • Difficulty chewing solid foods after 12-months.
  • Use of bottle or breast past 16-months old if associated with lack of ability/interest in cup drinking.
  • Limited diet (e.g. prefers eating same foods, same colors, textures, brands).
  • Limited variety of textures (e.g. only crunchy foods, only soft foods).
  • Need for supplemental nutrition for weight gain (i.e. Pediasure).
  • Signs of anxiety/distress as associated with food or mealtime and food refusal (i.e. Pushing away foods, tantrums at mealtime).
  • Skin reaction (dry patches, hives, rashes).
  • Abnormal bowel movements (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, loose stool) or frequency.
  • Excessive mouthing past 12-months of age.
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