Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

January 4, 2017

Feeding Friday: Family Mealtimes with Tube Fed Kids

Our last post was about the importance of eating together as a family regularly. This is particularly important for kids who are tube-fed, but it is often more difficult. Stringent tube-feeding schedules and extended time spent on the tube feeding itself can make sitting down and eating together feel like either an additional chore, or an impossible luxury. Add in a history of stressful mealtimes that feel like failures, and the result is often allowing tube-fed kids to opt out of the family dinner table. Sometimes medical and behavioral complications have disrupted daily routines so much that family mealtimes have never even been attempted. Unfortunately, this results in a crucial missed opportunity on the road to becoming a healthy eater. In addition to the advantages mentioned last week, kids who are tube-fed benefit by:

  • Being part of a family routine
  • Seeing food as enjoyable
  • Having mealtime expectations that aren’t just volume or eating related
  • Being exposed to a variety of foods through sight and smell
  • Watching parents and siblings eat (research has shown these to be the most powerful tools in the development of healthy eating habits).

Even if kids don’t put a bite in their mouths, there are other measures of success:

  • Helping to prepare food, making it clear that eating is not an expectation. It allows children to feel the pride of contributing and increases food experience. Even young children can tear, toss, stir, scoop and spread with some help.
  • Staying at the table for a certain period of time. Even if it begins at 2 minutes, time at the table can then be extended. If your child shows significant anxiety just with being at the table, this is an even more important step in becoming an eater.
  • Completion of mealtime chores such as helping to set the table, cleaning up the silverware, and helping to pass the serving plates can put the child in proximity to food that doesn’t force eating.
  • Participating in family conversation, even if it begins with one or two responses. Non-food conversation is important for family bonding and for helping the child to become a part of the “eating world” in preparation for becoming an eater themselves.

Talk to your therapist about other ways in which to build up to pleasant mealtimes. Past fears may need to be worked through before any food is part of the equation. If this is frustrating, remember that many families struggle with this, not just families with tube-fed children. If you missed it, check out the resources in last week’s post here.

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