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How Food and Oral Activity Helps us Process Sensory Information

We all have different ways to help us maintain our alertness, attention, focus, falling asleep, staying asleep, and “hanging out” modes that allow us to get through our day of work, play, learn, rest, and perform. Many of these habits and choices we make; we do without realizing and do as a result to meet our sensory needs. 

What is Oral Input?

Oral input is simply the act of doing something to increase your ability to pay attention. Examples of this are putting something in your mouth such as chewing on a pen cap while studying or listening to a lecture to increase your attention. Understanding oral input is key to understanding the ways in which food can help with meeting our sensory needs.

Now, Think about Your Food Preferences

Next, let’s take a closer look at categories you may prefer in food such as texture, taste and color. Use the list below to help you think back on some of your favorite snacks. Do most of the things that you chose to eat have similar textures? Which do you avoid because it is too colorful or not colorful enough?

Salty/Crunchy

  • Crackers Nuts Peanut Butter Raw Vegetables
  • Popcorn Pretzels Bagels/Breadsticks Cereal 
  • Chips Jerky Cheese Granola 

Sour Foods 

  • Lemons (lemonade) Grapefruit (grapefruit juice) Cranberry Juice
  • Candy/sour Unsweetened yogurt

Fruit/Fruit Juices

  • Apple Pineapple Strawberries Blueberries
  • Plum Grapes Oranges Banana
  • Peaches Melon Watermelon Nectarines

Spicy Foods

  • Pepper Mustard Salad Dressings Pizza Spaghetti
  • Chili Cinnamon Horseradish Hot sauce Buffalo wings/sauce

What Do My Food Preferences Tell Me?

The food and textures you choose, prefer and what your mouth does naturally are the foods, textures, and movements that help you to process and organize information throughout your day. This is also applicable to children

Sucking/Sweet Flavors: Are calming

Prefer to drink from a straw suck on food items versus chewing suck on fingers/clothing

Chewy: Is Organizing

Bagels Candy Gum Pen Cap Eraser

Crunchy/Strong Flavors: Are Alerting

Raw vegetables crackers pretzels chips

Use the lists above as a guideline (because not everyone eats the same foods) and see the things you prefer and do not prefer. Now ask yourself:

  • Is there a time of the day do you desire these snacks?
  • Are there types of situations you are in?
  • What do you do with your mouth when you are trying to focus or complete a task that is new to you?

Over the next several days track what you prefer and what your mouth does: it may surprise you! 

Written by: Kim Dekoski, MOT, OTR/L

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