Food therapy consists of teaching parents effective tools to create nutritious and healthy diets for children with eating problems. I have been using food therapy in my office for over 15 years with amazing results. Once a parent learns what food therapy tools are and how to implement them correctly, a love for food will eventually emerge from the child. Such tools consists of identifying food and health issues, implementing food mapping, embracing food play, understanding food behavior and teaching food wisdom.
- Food & Health Issues
- Food Mapping
- Food Play
- Food Behavior
- Food Wisdom
Food and Health Issues
Children with food issues and/or health issues related to food such as obesity, high cholesterol, high sugar, digestive problems, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorders, and ADD/ADHD, benefit from a proper evaluation of their dietary intake to identify what components may be contributing to a food and/or health issue. Once this identification is made, then a plan on how to address the issue is developed.
Food mapping is evaluating a child’s favorite foods and expanding a child’s likeness to try, accept and like new foods similar to his/her favorite foods. The goal is to map each week a new food item similar to the favorite foods while also introducing a bonus food, a new food item not related to the favorite foods. Food mapping is taught to both the parent and the child as they foster the understanding of proper food behavior and food wisdom.
Food play is having fun with food and finding a place where the parent and child can bond and fall in love with various aspects of food. The goal is to get the child involved with shopping, preparing, cooking, eating and cleanup of nutritious meals. It begins with providing the parent and child with adaptive strategies for the identified food issue. For example, some children struggle with sitting, staying still or staying at the table due to smell, sight, and anxiety of food. Some children cannot tolerate touching food and/or the smells or textures of foods. Other children have issues such as spitting out food, gagging, crying, and throwing tantrums. Food play teaches adaptive strategies specific to a child’s food issue(s). Younger children are instructed to play and have fun with food in various creative ways, and older children encouraged to find, create and cook recipes. I have children food play with me in my office and at home with his/her parent and family to foster a safe feeling around food.
Food behavior is discussing any food issues that may be related to or creating poor mealtime/food associated behaviors. The goal is to undo poor food behavior by teaching positive reinforcement management strategies for good food behavior. There is a delicate balance between the parent being in charge of meal time and food choices, but also allowing the child’s voice and needs to be heard. Once negative food behaviors (which are not necessarily the child or parent’s fault) are eradicated, a positive environment is created for successful growth in food mapping. I empower the parent to define and set clear rules as to what he/she expects from the child at meal time and what consequence will happen when the rules are broken. I also encourage the parent to implement an adaptive strategy such as a positive reward system for good food behavior and successful food mapping.
Food wisdom is a crucial part of food therapy and also addressing food/health issues. Food wisdom is learning WHAT proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are good to eat and which should be avoided. Once understanding the WHAT and WHY behind the facts, food wisdom then teaches how to understand food recipes and ingredients and the importance of choosing healthy ones. This wisdom is what creates successful menu plans that will promote health, prevent health issues and create nutritious meals. I love using the STOP LIGHT principle in teaching what foods are awesome, not-the-the-best, and simply bad to eat. This can easily be used in the home as well. Once a parent and child understand the importance of good food choices and how to make them, food mapping takes off and food issues tend to disappear.
10 Steps to a More Positive Meal Time
- Use the CLIMB THE LADDER process: A child must be exposed many times to a new food before he/she is ready to climb the next step of the ladder. A child must tolerate many things such as being in the same room as new food, the sight, smell, feel and taste of it, chewing and swallowing it and ultimately, liking it.
- Never spring on a new food to a child or try a new food in public. Give the child advance warnings that before the meal that there is a new food to try and it will be at the table in 10 min. Be as specific as you can and do not talk to the child while he/she is watching TV or playing. Make eye contact, get his full attention and give him a heads up with how much time until he sits with his new food.
- Reward for the positive food behavior you desire and ignore the bad behavior. Set clear consequences if the child does not behave and stick with it. Do no engage with the child’s negative food behavior.
- Implement adaptive food behavior strategies to help promote positive food behavior at meal time. Have all family members on board.
- Learn how to food map and introduce properly one food mapping item and one bonus food time a week.
- Snacks can be a huge cause of food problems. Keep them far from meal time and healthy.
- Giving a healthy snack an hour or more before the meal is a great way to break up a meal and all the choices. Often, I give the veggie or fruit I was going to serve at the meal as the snack so my son does not get overwhelmed with too much food at table or on plate.
- Have child make a menu for each day of week so he is involved in meal planning and choices. Give the child only two choices for each meal to choose from.
- Make meal time fun and attractive using fun cups, plates and utensils.
- Implement food play in your home to allow an emerging cook and good eater. Learn adaptive strategies of how to do so.