Messy Face, Empty Plate
by Kacie Bartlett, CCC-SLP
Kids Place West Speech and Feeding Therapist

Parents have been taught that when their child is hungry, they will eat. This may be true for some children but not all. Many children have difficulty consuming adequate nutrition orally, whether it is due to a medical diagnosis, motor difficulties, sensory difficulties or lack of experience with a variety of foods. When a child does not eat, it increases stress for parents and child. One of the most important aspects of development is getting MESSY. Yes, you read right, GET MESSY.

Growing and developing children learn about their environment by exploring the world around them. Children explore their world through touch and taste. They love to touch and put things in their mouth to fully explore the world around them. The reason children do this is because the hands and the mouth contain the most sensory receptors per square inch. Out of all the sensory receptors in the body, the first to emerge are in the mouth! These statistics are no coincidence, as the hands and the mouth are vitally important to eating and drinking to meet nutritional needs. For babies, putting their toes, fingers, and toys in their mouths is all extremely important to get them ready to feed themselves.

Around 6 months of age, babies are typically beginning to be presented with baby food or pureed consistencies. When presented with baby food and pureed consistencies, it is important to remember that these foods are primarily used for teaching children about more solid foods and helps the transition to table foods easier. Baby foods and pureed foods are also used to provide sensory input to the hands, fingers, mouth and face while the baby is eating.

It is also important to remember that changes in facial expression when your baby tastes new food are completely normal, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t like it. Research has shown that it takes the body 10 times on different occasions to decide if it likes a food or not.

Here are some tips to promote positive feeding experiences for your babies:

  • Let them get messy! This helps them explore!
  • Do not scrape their chins with the spoon, this causes negative experiences related to the feed.
  • Do not wash their faces while in their highchair, take them out, then wash face.
  • Model playing with the food (turn the apple sauce into a road and drive the car (your finger) down the river).
  • Sing songs about foods and make up nursery rhymes about food presented.