MEAL-TIME MELTDOWNS: How to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns during Meal-time Sensory

Meal-time Meltdowns: Sensory Kids

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For most of us, mealtime is a heaven-send. Food cures cases of the grumps. The varieties of flavors and textures trigger positive chemical releases in the brain. Filling your stomach creates a sense of satisfaction and overall contentment. What’s not to enjoy? Well, anyone who knows a picky eater, especially if you’re the parent of one, you know that mealtimes can be everything but pleasant. And it goes one step past picky when you’re dealing with a child that struggles with eating because of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns | #sensory

Picky eaters usually grow out of the phase of turning their noses up at their plates. But Sensory Kids usually don’t grow out of that pesky stage. Imagine someone refusing to eat anything but chicken nuggets and Mac and Cheese until they’re in their twenties (true story). They tend to have a harder time with the texture of food than they do the taste. Mushy foods top the list of offenders with foods such as mashed potatoes, oatmeal, rice, beans or eggs.

Children with SPD tend to gag a lot while eating or while watching others eat and bite more off than they can chew in a very literal meaning of the phrase. Whether in an attempt to minimize the discomfort by getting it all down at once or the inability to gauge their limits, they try to swallow chunks of food that are way too big. This problem is compacted with children who have low muscle tone in their cheeks and jaws, making chewing arduous and frustrating. All these cues are difficult for them to interpret so they express their feelings with difficult behavior (and by that I mean total meltdowns) at the table and refusal to eat the food prepared for them. So here are a few suggestions to help minimize mealtime meltdowns.

Casual Table-time

Sitting down to an activity that’s uncomfortable is stressful enough without adding the pressures of a formal setting. Snacks, games and laughter can help diffuse the stress and help your child better connect to the family and the situation. Also make sure to try and keep things short. Drawing out the length of the meal can compound the stress.

7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns | #sensory

Change it up

To help your child out, try preparing and presenting the foods they struggle with in a different way. If mashed potatoes make your kid cringe, try baked potatoes with their favorite topping or slicing them up and frying them in a pan. Present them oats in granola bars instead of oatmeal. If breakfast protein is difficult, try this recipe for protein waffles. Another way to change things up is to make sure the meals are easy and quick to eat. Healthy shakes and drinks make the meal quick and don’t frustrate them with slow meals that require a lot of cutting or chewing.

NUTRITION: Nutrition and Learning: How what our kids eat is tied to learning

Change the Venue

Eating outside provides them with the sensory input they need and gives them a chance to play and eat at the same time. And sometimes eating in a new or different place removes the stress and negative emotions they may have built up toward your own dinner table. I know my picky eater puts up less resistance at Grandma’s house when there is pressure to eat is less.

7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns | #sensory

Adjust Temperature

Too hot? Too cold? Major problem. At least for these kids. Something as simple as the temperature being off can ruin a meal for them. Be alert and see if your child is more inclined to one temperature or the other, or maybe they like it at room temperature only. That way you can plan meals that suit their taste.

Strengthen Muscle Tone

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase “but it’s too hard” come out of my picky one’s mouth while trying to encourage him to eat. Eating can seem as daunting as climbing a mountain if your child’s muscles aren’t strong enough to eat their food without tiring. Some children may need intervention through speech and occupational therapy, but there are some fun activities you can do with them at home too. Blowing bubbles, whistles and balloons all contribute to facial muscle tone as well as giving the lungs a good work out. Holding their breath and letting it out slowly or learning to play a wind instrument are both good exercises for building muscle tone.

SPEECH: Full of hot air or key to speech development?

7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns | #sensory

Play with your Food

Sensory Kids learn best through play. Allowing them to build animals or objects with their mashed potatoes (my personal best feat was a mashed potato coliseum), stack their crackers or run their fingers through their jello gives them an opportunity to associate with the texture and consistencies before they try to handle them in their mouths.

Work Through Steps

At first they may only be able to handle playing with the food, but as I mentioned, that can help them adjust to the things about the food they don’t like and they can get used to the idea of the food. Then they may venture into taking a small bite. If they don’t think they can swallow it, challenge them to hold it in their mouths for a few seconds before spitting it out. Hopefully, that can lead them to being comfortable eating it as a regular meal item.

Eating may be a process, but if you work with them and learn the preferences and limits, you can work through those kinks and issues to a happy mealtime and a healthy tummy.

Sensory Blog Hop - The Sensory Spectrum | #sensory

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!

7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns | #sensory

Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs


  1. These are great trips. There’s something all moms can learn here. I love the idea of a child playing with their food, to a certain extent of course. I think it will help me too, because I’m normally so concerned about the mess that I have to clean up.

  2. I liked how you stressed the importance of eating food without making it boring. Great points! 🙂

  3. Wow, great tips! So many concerns to have to think about!

  4. Thank you for these tips. My son is a very picky eater! It’s funny with him though because he will eat things like sushi, but won’t eat spaghetti. I usually just try to make things that he will eat too.

  5. This is great!!!! It is hard to get people to understand sensory processing disorders and sensory issues! These are all great tips and tricks and awesome info! Thanks!

  6. These are great tips! I know what a struggle it can be to have an orally defensive child! We did lots of these suggestions and now my daughter at 11yrs is eating almost everything. I will be sharing this post to help others 🙂

  7. These are great tips!! Trying to get picky eaters and kids with SPD to eat can be so hard!!

  8. Thanks for the tips! We’ve been eating out a lot during our stay with family, and I think it’s hard for relatives to understand how difficult it can be for a picky eater. We went to a buffet just today and I had a relative who was shocked that my son would only eat one thing on the whole buffet line (aside from desserts, of course!).

    One thing that my son has responded to is eating foods that he has grown himself. My parents have a garden and he will at least try every food grown there, and some he even eats on a daily basis. The moral of the story is- keep trying!

  9. Great tips! I have a specific set of things that help me prevent meltdowns too that work for my oldest. It is all about pre-empting the things that set them off for us.

  10. Great ideas. Summer is a great time to try many of them! Interesting insight re: the stimulus of being outside freeing some sensory kids up to eat more effectively…

  11. These are useful tips, I know I can pass this along as a great resource. Thank you for sharing at #BloggersBrags, I’m pinning it now!

  12. All terrific tips for those sensory eaters! So many parents in our community struggle with this and getting their children nourished.

    Thanks for being a part of the sensory blog hop on The Sensory Spectrum!

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution, The Sensory Spectrum

  13. Thanks so much for sharing these amazing tips with us at Talented Tuesdays – so much useful information!

  14. […] SENSORY TRICKS: 7 Meal-time tricks to avoid sensory meltdowns […]

  15. […] For ideas on how to prevent meltdowns during mealtime or even ideas to help your child cope with certain textures of food, read Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns. […]

  16. […] For sensory learning ideas on how to prevent meltdowns during mealtime or even ideas to help your child cope with certain textures of food, readMeal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns. […]

  17. […] 7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns – … – To avoid meal-time meltdowns with your sensory child, it may take more than just picking the right foods. Simple tricks to help sensory kids enjoy meal-time […]

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