Let’s Eat! – Formal Lunch in EC
A wide variety of studies suggest 20% of children, on average, struggle with some type of feeding and/or growth issue during the first five years of life. Eating can be one of the most difficult tasks a child can do and is influenced by environmental (including prior learning), nutritional, developmental and sensory (senses, muscles, body organ) experiences. Early Childhood has established a weekly ‘formal lunch’ as a way to add a habit of healthy eating in an enjoyable social setting along with a wide variety of other focus areas.
Language Skills Lunch is a perfect opportunity to learn to strengthen language skills. Students are learning language involved in setting the table, naming items, developing an ability to follow sequences and directions as well as the descriptive language of their food (what is their favourite food and why they like it; why they don’t like an item). Lunch time is also a social occasion and a time when the children can generate appropriate language interactions with their friends. They can talk about many things including what they did at playtime, what they have for lunch, foods that others are eating.
Oral-motor Skills Students are experimenting with the appropriate amount of food to place in their mouth to avoid over filling, how to chew, refining tongue movements, developing lip closure and how to drink from a cup.
Sensory Skills Meals and feeding provide an opportunity for our students to explore different sensory experiences. Foods provide different smells, tastes, sounds and textures. All our body organs, gastro-intestinal tract and muscles start to work (interoception). Our students are learning to have positive experiences with food as a way to develop confidence to try an increased range of new and varied food textures as well as decreasing resistance to touching, tasting and swallowing food. They are encouraged to try new foods by a hierarchy of smell, touch, taste (lick), chew and swallow. By building on previous experiences it is also aimed to increase the volume of new foods eaten.
Posture A good seated posture is an important aspect of eating. Students are seated with an appropriate height chair, encouraged to have feet on the floor, bottom back in chair and the chair in at the table. The 90 – 90 – 90 rule for ankles, knees and hips applies! This encourages an appropriate head position for good eating.
Upper Limb and Fine Motor Skills Using forks, knives and cups are some of the earliest opportunities for a child to learn how to use tools. For our students using a knife and fork develops strength in his/her back, arms, hands and fingers. They are learning to become independent eaters and to coordinate and use both arms/hands together with eye-hand coordination. Constructing a placemat allows explicit teaching of formal lunch elements, fine motor scissor use and a visual cue for where to place table items. Students are encouraged to be independent with opening containers, setting out food and utensils and pouring water into cups. If required, students are provided with cutlery which supports correct hand and finger positioning.
Social Skills Students are learning social skills that are part of a mealtime routine and the social cues to eating. Waiting, turn taking, table manners (including use of napkins) and table conversation are part of the process.
Janine Day (Occupational Therapist)
Anne McSweeney (Speech Language Pathologist)
SOS Approach to Feeding: Dr K Toomey, 2012
Super Duper Handy Handout Number 31: ‘Time to Eat Again?’ by K. Cheek and K. Spieilvogle, 2002
Super Duper Handy Handout Number 156: ‘Guidelines for the Development of Self-Feeding Skills’ by K. Mielke, 2008