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10 Feeding Myths Debunked

Updated: Jan 18

Your Speech Language Pathologist, is certified in the SOS Approach to Feeding! Here are 10 important feeding facts in parent-friendly terms - adapted from the work of Dr. Kay A Toomey:

Myth #1: Eating is the Body’s number 1 priority.

Actually, BREATHING is the Body’s number 1 priority. When we breathe well, eating is easier because every time we swallow, we need to briefly stop breathing and our oxygen levels decrease. Postural stability, keeping our balance and not falling, is the second most important thing, and eating comes in third. If we have trouble breathing or keeping our balance, we may not feel like eating.

Myth #2: Eating is instinctive.

Eating is only an instinctive drive for the first month of life. Eventually, it becomes a learned motor behavior. Babies are born with certain reflexes that help them eat, like rooting, sucking, and swallowing. These reflexes help babies lay down pathways in their brains for voluntary control over eating. But after the first five or six months, these reflexes go away and eating becomes a learned motor behavior.

Myth #3: Eating is easy.

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Eating is the MOST complex physical task that human beings engage in. It is the ONLY human task which requires all our organ systems and muscles to work together correctly, using all 8 of our senses at the same time. Even just one swallow needs 26 muscles and 6 nerves to coordinate! This is why it's important for a child's development, nutrition, environment, and learning to be considered when it comes to eating.

Myth #4: Eating is simple process; you sit down and you eat.

There are actually about 25 steps for typically developing children and 32 steps or more for children with feeding problems, in the process of learning to eat.

Myth #5: It is not appropriate to touch or play with your food.

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Playing with food before eating it can teach kids important information about the food they're going to eat. It helps them get comfortable with different textures, tastes, and temperatures. They can learn by touching and exploring the food with their hands. This can help children who have trouble with different sensory experiences get used to different textures and tastes. Plus, playing with food makes mealtime more fun and encourages kids to try new foods and develop healthy eating habits. So, it's okay to get messy while playing with food, because it's part of learning how to eat!

Myth #6: A child will not starve themselves. If a child is hungry enough, they will eat.

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This is true for the majority of children. However, for the 4-6% of the pediatric population who have feeding problems, they will “starve” themselves (usually inadvertently however) to avoid eating. Children are organized simply: if it hurts, don’t do it. If it doesn’t work: cry and/or avoid. For children who have skill or medical problems with eating, over time, their appetite may decrease, and they may not know when they need to eat to get enough energy. If a child has problems with eating, they may not eat enough even if they are hungry.

Myth #7: Children only need to eat 3 times a day.

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In order to meet their daily calorie requirements, children would have to eat adult sized meals if they only ate 3 times a day. With tiny stomachs and short attention spans, it takes most children 5-6 meals a day to get in enough calories for proper growth and development.

Myth #8: If a child won’t eat, they EITHER have a behavioral OR an organic (physical) problem.

Various research studies indicates that between 65-95% of all children with feeding problems have a COMBINATION of behavioral AND organic problems. A physical problem with eating can be stressful and frustrating, which can quickly turn into behaviors to avoid eating. On the other hand, children with purely behavioral or environmental reasons for not eating may compromise their nutrition, which can begin to cause organic (physical or medical) problems.

Myth #9: Certain foods should only be eaten at certain times of the day, and only certain foods are “good for you”.

Food is just food. Cultural factors make us label foods as a breakfast, lunch or dinner food that "should" be eaten at certain times of the day and label some as "good" or "bad." While some foods do have more nutritional value than others, labeling foods as “good” or “bad” or “only to be eaten at X meal”, is not helpful in teaching children to eat or to have a healthy relationship with food. While we may prefer our children to only eat "healthy," “junk” foods actually play a huge role as stepping stones in teaching children with feeding difficulties to learn to eat a wide variety of other foods. “Junk” foods are typically easy to manage from an oral-motor standpoint, and/or they have a large sensory appeal.

Myth #10: Mealtimes are a proper social occasion. Children are to “mind their manners” at all meals.

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Learning to eat comes first, manners come later. Kids need to learn how to eat before they can learn good table manners. Infants who are just starting to eat can get pretty messy, but this is all part of the learning process. Parents can help by making mealtime fun, interesting, and enjoyable. Talk about the food and model good eating habits for your child. Don't be afraid to be noisy or messy during mealtime and have fun playing with your food!


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