Cooking with reluctant eaters can and should be a fun and educational learning experience. Many of my students have very restrictive diets and this can present a challenge. Sound familiar? I have a free resource and ideas that may help.
Planning to Support your Reluctant Eaters
The first thing I do is consult with parents to get an idea of how we can support their child’s eating in school. This discussion typically happens during IEP meetings where the SLP and OT are also present (at the beginning of the school year in NZ). I then plan the tasting/cooking session to make the most of when either the OT or SLP is scheduled to be in my room.
I typically plan the lesson to be around lunch time so the natural hunger of the students may encourage them to taste new foods. The next thing is of course schedule it on the same day weekly. I have a cooking picture on our schedule so the students know it is coming up. Lastly it is about building routine into the session and having fun. Here are some more ideas from the Mayo Clinic. Don’t let the picky eaters title put you off there is sound advice.
Format for Program
I have two parts to cooking. The first is tasting/exposing to a fruit or vegetable. This could be fresh, dried or cooked in some way. Tasting creates the most anxiety so I do this part first so the students can relax a little more for the skill section of cooking. The second is to participate in a skill for the term. It could be spreading, cutting or perhaps sprinkling. I choose a range of different ways to practice and generalise the skill.
Reluctant eaters and restrictive diets impact on nearly all of my students. My kiddos are at different levels in their ability to taste or tolerate different foods. Therefore, for some having the food in sight but not in their space is the first step. Core boards are always present and utilised to support the process ( you can download one here to support you if needed).
The Most Reluctant Eaters
Trust is the issue. Ensure there is no pressure. It is a gradual process and progress takes time. For those who are the most reluctant we hope that we can bring the food as close as we can each session. Some may tolerate the food on the table somewhere but not too close to them. It might be that some can tolerate it on their plate.
Progressing through Stages
Some students may pick up the plate and smell the food. For some they can quickly touch the food with the tip of their finger. Still more may be able to roll the food on the plate or squish it with a masher etc. Just having a fun experience around food. For others they may pick up the food and smell it. Still others may be able to touch it to their body, face, kiss it, lick it, put in their mouth, chew and some will swallow a little.
Resource to Support Reluctant Eaters
Whenever we are doing the tasting aspect of the cooking program I use a visual board to support the students. It is also helpful to guide adults working with the children. I laminate the Time to Taste boards for durability. All students that are reluctant eaters have an adult modelling next to them. Each adult has a plate and the food to try.
Pairing of the staff
The most challenged student works with the OT. The next most challenged works with my senior support assistant. I lead the group and work with two students, one who is game to try most foods and one who is somewhat reluctant. The rest of the students have the support of my other two teaching assistants. We point to the visual and model the step, dependent on where the student is at on their food journey.
Completing the Tasting
Because we do this every week, the students know that there will be no pressure. Each person has a plate placed in front of them. I show the children the food we are to taste in its raw/original form; for example a whole banana. I talk about the colour, the aroma, the shape, the texture as I model on a core board and accompanying fringe symbols. The whole fruit or vegetable is then passed around for kids to explore. We typically have more than one for speed.
A piece of food is cut or presented in the form ready to be tasted. A quick description of the food visually is then give. Then I smell, touch, taste as I point to the symbol on the Time to Taste board. Next a portion is placed on each plate ready for the children and adults to explore and hopefully, taste. Each adult has a copy of the Time to Taste resource.
We take our time for the tasting. I judge how the students are traveling and when I think they have completed as far as they are able, we do a count down from 10 to zero. An adult then goes around to each student with a little rubbish bin.
Tidy up and Record Data
Any student who has not swallowed the food places the item in the bin. I ask an adult to go around with the bin. This is so that the students receive an appropriate level of prompt, in order to be successful. It is an important step as nearly always the students will pick up the food with their fingers given appropriate support. Sometimes after they have done this they will smell their fingers. We don’t offer to wash their hands. Due to the routine they end up touching the food without thinking about it. Bit sneaky but successful on most occasions. Document as required to meet IEP goals and/or to identify progress. You can download my simple tasting data sheet here.
Free Resource-Time To Taste
You are welcome to download my Time To Taste free resource. It may support you during cooking time, snack or lunch time at school or at home. Remember: Make tasting time fun time.