Today’s question comes from Emily in Brooklyn. Emily writes: “My nephew, 8 years old with autism, won’t eat very many veggies. The only veggie I’ve seen him eat willingly is tomato sauce. He doesn’t seem to mind the taste of other veggies when they’re pureed and put into the sauce. However, if he puts it in his mouth, he will not chew it. He swallows small pieces of it without chewing. How can I work on getting him to chew his food? Does he just need more practice? Are there other techniques I should be trying besides offering veggies and occasionally expecting them to be consumed?”
Emily, this is a great question! Rebecca and I see many children who do not want to chew their food. They do this to avoid the taste and/or to avoid the texture. When we enroll children in feeding therapy, we always start with one bite; one very small bite. Think about how you try new foods. You do not try a new food by ordering a huge plate and you certainly don’t fill the fork on that first bite. Children need the same approach.
Next we start with small expectations. First just have your nephew put the food to his lip. Once he can put the broccoli to his lip using a fork without fussing, then he is ready for the next step; touching it to his tongue. After he touches it to his tongue successfully, he is ready to put it in his mouth, followed by chewing and swallowing. During the meal, remove all the preferred food until he complies with touching the new food to his lip. When he does, give him more (but small amounts of) preferred food. After he consumes the preferred food and when he is ready for more preferred food, say, “oh, I need you to try my broccoli again”.
Within one meal, you should have him chewing and swallowing very small bites of broccoli. Keep in mind that an appropriate sized bite of new food is a dime or smaller.
Good luck with the veggies. Please let us know how it goes!