Children who seek oral sensory input may chew on their shirt, pens/ pencils, mouth items, or frequently make mouth noises. Our goal is to help kids get the sensory input they need by replacing these types of habits with safer and healthier alternatives. One way to do this is through food!
There are many different ways to help our little sensory seekers and various techniques to provide sensory input to the mouth. The sensory system is very complex and the oral aspect is just one piece of the puzzle (for example, providing proprioceptive input to the whole body and engaging in heavy work activities is also important.) However, for the purpose of this article, we will be focusing specifically on foods you can introduce throughout the day which pack a big sensory punch to the mouth and can help with self-regulation.
Did you know that hard, chewy or crunchy foods can be great because they provide more resistance and make the jaw really work? ORAL WORK can provide calming and organizing sensory input!
Chewy/ crunchy foods to try for children who seek oral sensory input and need to chew:
- Fruit leather
- Dried fruits (dried mangos, raisins)
- Sliced celery sticks
- Carrot sticks
- Turkey jerky
- Bagel chips
- Pretzels (Snyder’s Sourdough Hard Pretzels and the Nibblers gives a big crunch..it’s definitely “work” to chew them!)
- Crunchy cereal
- Granola bars
- Apples. Preferably eating it whole vs. sliced (eating the apple whole requires more “work”)
- Baked pita chips
- Rice cakes
- Orange wedges
- Toast topped with peanut butter
- Yogurt topped with granola and frozen blueberries
- Applesauce through a straw
- Frozen bananas! If you’re in the mood for making a sweet treat, try this Chocolate Covered Frozen Banana Pops recipe. If you think your child would prefer sliced bananas, check out these Chocolate Covered Frozen Banana Bites
- Drink thick liquids (such as a fruit smoothie) through a straw
- Drink out of something that provides a little bit of resistance such as a water bottle with a bite-valve (Camelbak makes a great kids’ water-bottle with a bite valve straw)
- Chewing gum (with supervision)
Slightly spicy, sour, or cold foods are also very alerting and can provide a ton of sensory input to the mouth. You may want to experiment with:
- Cold seltzer/ carbonated water with lemon ice cubes
- Water with fresh lemon juice squeezed in
- Eat frozen fruit- mangos, strawberries, bananas, blueberries are all great fruits to eat frozen
- Homemade ice pops (made with fruit juice)
For more in depth feeding tips, check out: Feeding Tips for Picky Eaters: Making Mealtime Less Stressful
Author: Christina Kozlowski, Occupational Therapist (OTR/L) and Creator of Sensory TheraPLAY Box (the sensory toy subscription box)
Please note that the ideas presented in this article are for informational purposes only and are never individualized therapy recommendations. The foods listed may not be relevant or appropriate for your child and you should always consult with a trained professional or pediatric OT/ SLP about your chid’s individual sensory needs. For example, some children with sensory processing issues may not have a good sense of how much or where the food is inside their mouth. Children can have a hard time knowing how much to bite off or will shovel/ overstuff food into their mouths. For this reason, some of the foods listed above would not be appropriate for children who have feeding difficulties related to sensory processing issues. Always be aware of any allergies or food restrictions.