Pediatric Nutrition

Feeding a Child with Special Needs

Before feeding your child, set an appropriate meal-time mood:

  • Provide a quiet atmosphere: no television, but use soft music instead. Wash your hands and your child's face and hands before the meal. Announce that it is time to eat.
  • Seat your child in a comfortable position. The child should be seated in an upright position, with hips and feet at a 90-degree angle (no slouching or feet dangling off of the chair). No slouching from side-to-side: use belt in high chair or pillows on sides if necessary. If your child cannot sit upright in a chair or infant seat, use pillows or towel rolls to prop the child as upright and straight as possible. Sit down facing your child at their eye level.
  • Share positive emotions: stay calm, smile at your child, don't show frustrations with any difficulties during the meal. Give lots of praise.

You will also want to use the right equipment:

  • Spoon size should match the size of the child's mouth.
  • Coated spoons are great for infants or children who bite down hard onto a spoon.
  • Sectioned plates or small bowls with a lip on the sides to help self-feeders.
  • "Sporks"—a combined spoon and fork utensil—are also helpful.
  • Sippy cups or mugs with handles for self-feeders.

And finally, choose foods wisely:

  • Start the meal by massaging your child's gums with a finger dipped in lemonade. This will get your child sucking. Having your child lick or suck on a popsicle will work the same way.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • If your child can self-feed, provide finger foods such as cut-up hard-cooked eggs, cut-up fruit, folded pancakes, quarter-cut sandwiches, etc. Also, serve soup in mugs.
  • Use straws when able.
  • Give sips of fluid between solids. Thicken fluids if needed: use fruit nectars (store bought or make your own using pureed fruit added to juice—i.e., applesauce plus apple juice).
  • Pureed food should be thick enough so it doesn't spill out of the child's mouth—about the consistency of mashed potatoes.
  • Add ground meat into your child's diet as teeth come in or you see your child use chewing motions.
  • Add calories/protein but not volume: mix nonfat dry milk into soups, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and hot cereal. Add a dab of margarine, butter, or sour cream where needed, or add cheese sauce to vegetables.