Food is Sensory, Mealtimes are Sensory
Introducing food to your baby is about so much more than meeting their nutritional needs, so even if they aren’t eating a whole lot (yet) be assured that by offering them chances to explore food with all their senses, there are still major benefits in setting them up for a great relationship with food!
Our brain collects information about our world through our senses and we use this information to understand our world. There is no activity that we do during our everyday routine that incorporates all our senses more than mealtimes! We all process sensory information differently, some of us may be less responsive to some senses and some of us may over respond to others.
How our little one’s sensory system works affects all parts of their day, including their mealtimes. Giving your little one lots of opportunity to interact with their food can help develop and support their sensory system. Offer your little one a range of textures to explore. This might look like purées squirted on their tray, preloaded on a spoon. Squishing finger foods with their little fingers, making towers with them or dipping them in puree.
Here are the 8 senses and the ways they impact mealtimes:
The Sense of Smell (Olfactory)
The sense of smell often gives us an indication of how something may taste. The smell of food streams through the house before we even get to the table. As we approach the table, the smells get stronger. The smell of other people’s food can also affect us, even if we aren’t required to eat it.
The Sense of Sight (Vision)
The sense of sight gives us information about the colours and shapes of foods, how it is arranged on the plate and on the table. The lighting and movement at mealtimes may also impact our sensory system.
The Sense of Touch (Tactile)
The sense of touch provides information about our world through our skin (including inside our mouths). The texture and temperature of food can be felt with our hands, mouths and skin. Some of these sensations we might enjoy, others we may not.
The Sense of Taste (Gustatory)
The taste of the food; bitter, sour, salty, sweet. Our taste buds develop as we age and some of us enjoy big flavours and others of us don’t.
The Sense of Hearing (Auditory)
The sounds of chewing, crunching, sucking inside our own mouths as well as the other noises at mealtimes; chatter, cutlery clinking etc. can all impact our sensory system.
The Sense of Body Position (Proprioception)
The sense of where our body is and how much pressure is needed to do things like crack an egg or hold a banana (making sure we don’t hold too tight and squish it). Proprioception impacts how we coordinate our hands, cutlery and our chewing.
The Sense of Balance and Movement (Vestibular)
The ability to move and balance. We seek a feeling of safety through an upright posture which allows us to focus on eating and breathing. Supportive seating helps our vestibular system.
The Sense of Internal Body Signals (Interoception)
This sense gives us information about what is happening inside our bodies. For example, hunger, fullness, belly pain, reflux pain, anxiety. All of these internal sensations can impact mealtimes.
Written by Paediatric Speech Pathologist Jamie Williams