Playing With Food Helps Kids Expand Diet

JOHNSTON, Iowa – You've probably heard you shouldn't play with your food, but there is one class where it is encouraged.

From the moment they sit down around a table at Childserve in Johnston, you can tell this isn't your typical snack time. The kids around the table won't touch many childhood favorites.

Mom Lisa Felton said, "He eats about maybe nine foods that are all starches, no protein or vegetables or fruits." Her son Cameron, 4, is part of the Feeding Therapy group through Childserve’s Feeding and Swallowing Clinic.

"A lot of people hear they don't eat a lot of foods. They think the kid is just picky. And, it's a little more than that when they're running from the table or making faces. You want to help them, and you just don't know how," she said.

Crystal Howard also brings her son Matthew, 6. She said, "He became so limited. He only had mayo sandwiches. And then he would go weeks without trying to eat anything."

But, play is helping the children learn to try or at least tolerate new foods. Speech Language Pathologist and Feeding Team Lead Jenny Briggs said, "Some kids have a hard time managing the foods from an oral/motor perspective. So, how are they managing the foods in their mouth, the safety of their swallow. We have other kids that come because they have a hard time just interacting with those sensory properties of the food and how they can explore the food in a safe way."

The children meet an hour a week for twelve weeks. Parents watch from another room and learn ways to help expand their kids' diets. Briggs said, "We like to see that kids have, as a general rule of thumb, about 30 unique foods in their diet, so they can have a variety of foods. So they can have enough starches, enough proteins, and vegetables to get those micro and macro nutrients for their nutrition."

A varied diet is something the parents want. Howard said, "It was awful before. We couldn't get him to eat anything. Now he actually is willing to eat food. It's a big adjustment."

Felton said, "It's great because you cheer when they eat yogurt. It kind of sounds silly, but he didn't do that at home. It was always vanilla wafers, and that would be it. But, have him try something that's good for him, it's like a small victory."

There is a waiting list for the feeding therapy program. Children must be evaluated by the feeding clinic to see if it's something that can help them.

You can contact Childserve for more information.