Strategies to Enhance Mealtime Behaviors

by Michelle A. Ortega, M.S., CCC-SLP

1. Make a point to set a calm, relaxing tone for the mealtime. Control the lighting, sound and movement in the eating environment.

2. Establish “sitting behaviors”:

Make sure the child is in a comfortable, well-supported seat.

Have small fidget toys or books at the table to entice the child to sit.

Make a placemat out of photos or pictures of favorite items and cover it with clear contact paper to give the child something for visual focus.

Start with 5 minute increments (working up to 15 minutes) to encourage success. But… once the child leaves the table, mealtime is over.

3. Help the child establish regular hunger-satiation cycles by limiting eating to mealtimes and scheduled snacks. Contact your pediatrician to learn about appropriate serving sizes recommended for your child’s age. They are probably smaller than you think.

4. Discontinue all sip-cup use. Discourage your child from walking around with a juice cup in his/her hand. Drinks can by served in flip-top cups with internal straws, juice boxes, or sports bottles with straws on the go. Open cup drinking should be encouraged at all mealtimes.

5. Some children snack (chew) or drink (suck) for organizational, calming and
arousing purposes. Replace the snacks with other positive oral behaviors.

Increase frequency of tooth brushing.

Toothbrush with an electric toothbrush.

Allow oral exploration with hand-held massager.

Oral motor toys (whistles, bubble blowers)