Helping children with feeding skills

Tips for making mealtimes fun!

When we eat or drink, there are a number of steps that our body goes through automatically. We bite, move food with our tongue, chew with our teeth, close our lips, move food to the back of our mouth and engage our swallowing reflex.

In fact, eating is one of the most complex actions that we do as humans as it uses all of our body senses and systems.

Sometimes, children will have difficulties with co-ordinating or developing all of the skills needed for feeding. This can be for various reasons and no one cause can be attributed. You may find that if you have raised concerns regarding your child’s feeding skills to your Paediatrician or General Practitioner, you may be referred to a Speech Pathologist (SP) and/or Occupational Therapist (OT).

Speech Pathologists (SPs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs) who have had further training are able to assess and provide intervention for feeding difficulties. 

What are feeding difficulties?

As mentioned above, there are various reasons why a child may present with feeding challenges. Some of these challenges may include:

  • Having a restricted diet/ reduced range of foods within their diet
  • Food refusal
  • Difficulties with oromotor  skills required for feeding 
  • Sensory challenges with foods 
  • Difficulties participating in mealtimes and mealtime routines
  • Difficulties transitioning to different types of food (e.g. purees to solids)
  • Difficulties with introducing new foods
  • Difficulties with access to feeding/mealtime environments 
  • Rejection or refusal of new foods
  • Anxiety based difficulties with food 
  • Behavioural challenges with feeding and mealtimes 
  • Gagging on particular foods
  • Past diagnosis based challenges (i.e. tracheomalacia, laryngomalacia)

What can SP’s and OT’s do at Cooee?

Within our clinical environment at Cooee, our trained therapists can offer the following support with feeding:

  • Family strategies for mealtimes
  • Sensory strategies for trying new foods
  • Exploring and expanding food repertoires
  • Assistance with the oral-motor components needed for biting, chewing and swallowing
  • Behavioural feeding supports and strategies for anxious feeders.

It is important to seek out trained therapists that are comfortable providing feeding intervention and information.

**Please note: Cooee Speech Pathology does not treat Swallowing disorders/Dysphagia, as this requires further training and specialist equipment. 

7 steps to create your own mealtime routines

At Cooee, we know that children love routines and consistency.  Sometimes the dinner table can be tough, so we wanted to share a few thoughts about how to structure the steps around meal time – to help create a safe environment for food exploration.


Routines are an excellent way to ensure a child knows exactly what to expect.  This can help a child to feel more in control of situations, especially situations that might be more stressful- like trying a new type of food!  

  1. Give a reminder or verbal cue 5-minutes prior to beginning your meal to indicate to your child that a transition is about to happen. For example, you could say “we are going to eat in 5-minutes”. This helps our little ones prepare for sensory input shift and allows for cognitive shift to a new task. Your child will have time to prepare themselves to put away their toys and get ready for their meal. 


  1. Once the 5-minutes is up, give a verbal cue for everyone to wash their hands.  Not only is this great for hygiene, it also gives your child extra time to prepare themselves for the meal that is coming. It also provides proprioceptive and tactile input. 


  1. Encourage everyone to help with setting the table.  Again this gives your child the chance to prepare for eating before actually having the food in front of them. 


  1. Time to eat! Encourage everyone to sit at the table together.  Make sure that your child is sitting in a supportive chair, ensuring that their feet are flat on the floor or on a foot rest. 


  1. If you are introducing a new type of food, take turns going around the table and talking about what it looks like, smells like, feels like and tastes like. 


  1. If your child is not ready to eat the new food yet, that is okay! Encourage them to get used to the way it looks and smells. You could put foods they are learning about on a ‘learning plate’ if they are not ready to have them on their meal plate. If they feel comfortable doing so, encourage them to play with it (make a funny face, see if you can draw with it, create a scene etc). 


  1. Once everyone has finished with their meals, encourage your child to help you to clear the table and to throw out/put away any unwanted food.  This is an important step of a mealtime routine as it helps to signal that the meal has come to an end. It can be particularly helpful if your child has tried a new food that they are not yet comfortable with.  By throwing the food away it can reduce the feeling of stress your child might have. Don’t be discouraged though, children often need multiple exposures to a new food before they feel comfortable eating them. 

Having a good mealtime routine in place at home can help to reduce the stress that families often feel around food. 


Mealtimes are a great time to bond with your child. Having positive mealtime experience will help your child to be more adventurous and comfortable with different foods. 

Of course if you feel like you need some professional support to address specific feeding difficulties, please contact us, or book online. Currently at Cooee, we have a waitlist for all feeding referrals. 

**Please note, any rapid weight loss, sudden loss of appetite, ingestion of food/water into the lungs is best seen by your GP or a medical professional in a hospital setting.

**This blog is written to provide a general overview of feeding and what our clinic can offer our families. This is not intended to be medical or individualised advice. 


  1. SOS Approach to Feeding. A transdisciplinary program for assessing and treating children with feeding difficulties. SOS Approach to Feeding.


Joint blog written by Emma Lefever, Speech Pathologist and Ashley Hannan, Occupational Therapist