One out of four typical children will develop a pediatric feeding disorder. Does that statistic shock you or does it feel extremely relatable? Melanie Potock of Munch Bug is an SLP and Pediatric Feeding Expert. She has written 6 books on feeding, speaks around the world, and is a coach to parents and children struggling with picky eating.
Picky eating is a wide, all-encompassing umbrella term that spans many many feeding issues from babies to school-aged kids. A point Melanie really drives home during this interview is that feeding is developmental. Just as you would be concerned if your child was not hitting their other milestones, feeding issues should receive the same concern. So much goes into feeding including cognitive, motor, and even parenting skills.
How can you start strong? Can feeding be a joyous experience? Feeding when speaking about food variety and solids begins at 6 months old. This is a really crucial time to learn babies’ cues; when are they hungry? When are they done? When are they satisfied? This type of communication between baby and parent is called responsive feeding. A topic in which Melanie has devoted an entire book to!
For toddlers and school-aged children who may be showing signs of picky eating are not ruined by good eating habits, remember to shift your mindset. Children grow at an extremely rapid rate from birth to about 18 months when it begins to slow down. A child who may have been eating everything in sight may suddenly not need as much to fuel their body. This is OK. The key at this age is to continuously try new things, in a positive way.
What about the age-old trick of sneaking veggies into dessert? Have you ever made avocado pudding or black bean brownies to get that extra nutrition in for your toddler or young child? Melanie’s advice is to take the words trick or sneak out of your vocabulary when it comes to feeding. Did you sneak the black beans in or did you try a fun new recipe? Let kids know what’s in their food and tell them that you are just as surprised as you are that it tastes so yummy. It is okay to experiment with foods and recipes, it’s even normal, and that sets the stage for adventurous eating.
So what are some characteristics of picky eating that need intervention? Look for rigid patterns such as not tolerating new food on their plate, not eating at the table most of the time, and not eating in a new environment (school, classroom, restaurants). Sometimes kids are being kids, but these are things that happen more frequently than not. You may also see irritability before, during, or after each feeding, taking a long time for feeding, coughing and gagging, more frequently, gurgling, or frequent vomiting. Any stall in the development of feeding warrants intervention.
If you are feeling stressed about feeding, get help now. Even if it’s just a consult or a few extra tips and slight changes to your existing feeding routine. The longer you wait to get help or make changes, the more unlearning that will need to take place and the chance of extensive feeding therapy in your future. Talk to your pediatrician, reach out to Melanie, or seek out other forms of feeding support.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers and school age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and the upcoming Responsive Feeding: The Baby-First Guide to Stress-Free Weaning, Healthy Eating, and Mealtime Bonding (Jan 2022). The tips in her activity cookbook for parents & kids, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s children’s book You are Not an Otter takes preschoolers on a food adventure, exploring all the ways that various animals eat! Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN.com and Parents Magazine. Contact her at www.MelaniePotock.com and follow Mel on Instagram and Facebook too!
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