Mealtimes are meant for shared fun, enjoyment and exploration! Is this true in your household? Or are your children plugging their noses, turning their heads, covering their mouths and hiding under the table? I’ve seen the entire spectrum of refusal-to-eat behaviors in my 15 years of experience as an occupational therapist specializing in treating children with feeding difficulties.
When I first see a child for feeding therapy, my first step and recommendation to parents is to create a stress-free, enjoyable, engaging mealtime environment where their child can explore and interact with all types of food. Each child is unique in their temperament and abilities and parents should work to build a relationship of trust with their child to create a safe and nurturing place to eat.
With my own children, after coming home to dishes piled in the sink from yesterday’s meals, backpacks and homework scattered across the kitchen, dirty lunchboxes, basketballs bouncing on the tile floor, begging for piano practicing to be finished, trying to put together dinner with my own growling tummy, my patience and creativity are pretty well depleted. Once I’ve finally gotten the food prepared and on the table to eat, it’s time to make the meal stress-free, enjoyable, engaging and fun through exploring and interacting with food and children who aren’t too impressed or excited with the green things in their pasta. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Compared to families of children who struggle to eat, I know I have nothing to complain about because this scenario would be a dream come true for their child to turn their head at only the green things!
Recently, a friend sent me a video clip of Leslie Mingo showing her Dylbug children’s mealtime products. I especially love her plates, food cutters and placemats! These plates, bowls, cups, cutters and placemats encourage food exploration and interaction in a fun, enjoyable, engaging way without mustering up large quantities of your own creative energy as you sit down to the table. Sometimes parents and children just need a starting point for creativity to encourage food exploration. Dylbug’s products could be one of those creative starting points!
During food exploration and interaction that I use during my feeding therapy sessions, I encourage looking at the colors and shapes of food, smelling the food as it slowly gets closer to the face and touching the food with hands, arms, face and lips to help children ease into being comfortable with the sensory properties of a challenging food before eating it. Dylbug’s products can be a great addition to feeding therapy tools for feeding therapists and families encouraging their children to eat at home.
In addition to allowing your child to help use the food cutters and placing food on the plate to decorate it, they could try to recreate it again, such as holding the food “hat” up to their own head to encourage touching closer to their face. The placemats have fun designs and places to draw on it. I would encourage drawing with food for more interaction, using dipping sauces, food pieces or crumbs to “color” in the blank spaces. Those are just some beginning ideas to start off the creativity and exploration with your children. (But, please remember that you are creating an environment of trust, so be sure to read your child’s cues and not push too far.)
Leslie is a mother of three, including one that she describes as a picky eater. She wanted to make healthy eating fun, so used her artistic background and love for creativity to do just that. Her children will eat new foods with the playful way they are displayed on her plates. She’s also heard that other children are doing the same thing with her products. “Parents are amazed at how excited their children are to eat what is on their plate. It just makes mealtime happy,” says Leslie. Dylbug has an Instagram feed of photos of ideas from Leslie and other parents who are using Dylbug’s products. Leslie said, “Parents are so proud of what healthy ideas they create. It’s a great way for everyone (including me) to get ideas and support on how to feed our children.”
Dylbug is a Utah-based company that started about a year ago. Dylbug products are currently only sold online at dylbug.com, but Leslie is hoping that in the near future she can start selling in local boutiques. You definitely need to check out all the fun and creative dress-up designs that can be customized with hair, skin color, names and the car or train designs with matching food cutters and placements. At least follow dylbug on Instagram to be inspired for food exploration to make mealtimes enjoyable and fun for everyone!
If your child continues to struggle to eat, please read my blog post, “When Does Picky Eating Become a Problem?” to determine if your child may benefit from feeding therapy or further professional intervention. I offer feeding therapy services in children’s homes in Utah in Weber-Davis-Morgan counties. Happy exploring, creating and eating!