The Sensory Stages to eating

To celebrate the launch of our new Health Swap app, over the coming weeks we will be posting blogs all about nutrition. This blog will look at the sensory stages of eating and how this can help parents/carers with introducing new foods. 

Many parents or carers of people with Down’s syndrome struggle to introduce new foods into their diet. This can be due to a multitude of factors including taste or not enjoying changes in routine. Joan Medler, in her book The Down Syndrome Nutrition Handbook: A Guide to Promoting Healthy Lifestyles, promotes the work of Kay Toomey and the Sensory Stages to Eating Foods. It is a step by step process to help with the integration of new food in to the diet.

Step 1: Accept the presence of the new food in the same space as them
This could simply be having the food on the table away for the person, or someone else on the table trying the food but not offering it to the person with Down’s syndrome.

Step 2: Accept the odour of the food
One of the first indicators of food is its smell, so allow the person to get used to the smell of the food. You could even ask them to help cook the food so they get used to the smell of it.

Step 3: Explore the properties of the new food
Allow the person to touch the food, whether at a distance with their hands, of using their tongue to touch the food without chewing or consuming it.

Step 4: Sample the new food
Let the person try the food, but don’t force them to swallow it if they aren’t ready yet. They could also pair it with another food they like, or have a drink immediately afterwards.

Step 5: Eat the food
This can be a long process for some people, some can progress to a new step with only 10 exposures, for others it might be 50 or 500! So be patient and let them progress at their own pace. Avoid pressure tactics for trying the new foods, and try and lead by example by trying the food yourself to show it’s safe. Asking the person to help with preparing and cooking the food can also help with them feeling more comfortable around it, which will hopefully lead to them trying the food.

To find out more about the Health Swap app please click here and to see all the other blogs in our nutrition series please click here.