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How the Feeding Hierarchy Leads to Successfully Eating New Foods

When it comes to trying new things, it’s common to feel overwhelmed. This can also be true when introducing new foods into a child’s diet!

In Occupational Therapy, it’s common for us to work on building tolerance to a variety of foods for picky eaters. When it comes to picky eaters, we often follow the “feeding hierarchy,” a play-based approach to introducing new foods, to work on building their tolerance to non-desired foods. The process starts with interacting with food on a preliminary level before working up to biting, chewing, and then swallowing. Our process at CWJR is designed to provide a multi-sensory experience with the goal of introducing different tastes, textures, and temperatures of food. It’s important for a child to tolerate the smaller steps before they can master eating the foods!

Kids learn through play, and food is no exception to this rule. Every child is unique and may go through the steps at different speeds depending on their experiences. Read on to learn about the feeding hierarchy steps that lead to successfully eating new foods!

Step One: Tolerating the Food

Before diving right into eating, it’s important to accustom the child to initial steps like:

  • Being in the same room as the food
  • Being at the same table as the food
  • Having the food in front of them on their plate
  • Looking at the food

Step Two: Interacting with the Food

The next step of the feeding hierarchy involves:

  • Touching non-desired food with a preferred food
  • Assisting in cooking/preparing the food
  • Handling the food with utensils
  • Messy play with the food

Step Three: Smelling the Food

Taste and smell are very closely related senses. When a child can smell a certain food before tasting it, it’s another step toward eliminating the “unknown” and taking a bite!

Step Four: Touching the Food

This step of the feeding hierarchy involves a child touching the food to their:

  • Fingertips
  • Hand
  • Chin
  • Nose
  • Lips
  • Teeth
  • Tongue

Step Five: Tasting the Food

Almost there! This is the second to last step of the process and consists of a child:

  • Licking the food
  • Biting a piece of the food and spitting it out
  • Holding a piece of the food in their mouth for 3-5 seconds and spitting it out
  • Chewing the food multiple times before spitting it out
  • Chewing and swallowing the food

Step Six: Eating the Food

And that’s it! With patience and the right approach, the feeding hierarchy can help children get accustomed to eating previously non-desired foods. In this final step, the goal is for the child to be able to eat the food without having a negative experience. 

Do you think your child could benefit from feeding therapy at Crawl Walk Jump Run? Set up a consultation with our expert team to get started!

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