The Fun with Food Programme – how to establish a fun food ladder that is student led

In the fourth part of our seven part series we explore the fun with food food programme and look at how to establish a fun food ladder that is student led. Take a look at our other blogs on PECs – The six steps and how to make it funSCERTS approach made easy! and Attention Autism – Are we offering an irresistible invitation to learn? for more great SEN teaching ideas, tips and best practice!

Fun with food

The Fun with Food programme originated from a need to develop more efficient and more effective services for children with disabilities who had an aversion to oral feeding.

The aims are to desensitise the child to food smells and textures, to help prepare the child for eating and to assist in developing a positive attitude to food. A number of pupils with SEN have a limited diet in terms of what they choose to eat. This can be due to sensory issues such as the look, taste, smell and texture of certain food and drink. Fun with food offers them the chance to explore food and drink at their own pace and hopefully help them to reduce any fears or anxieties they have in this area. Hopefully this will enable them to extend and explore the range of food and drink within their diet.

Many student have complex issues relating to eating, drinking and swallowing that needed intervention. The Fun with Food programme offers various ways of implementing different strategies in order to facilitate and meet the needs of students identified with severe issues in these areas.

Sensory hypersensitivity

Students may overreact to and be put off by textures, smells and the sight of food. Rigid behaviour patterns – students become restricted in the range of foods they will eat and will often only eat brand specific food. This is because if they are used to a certain food they know what to expect e.g. a McDonald’s hamburger always tastes the same. They may have difficulty generalising and get stuck on the look, taste or texture of the food. They will often not eat foods that are touching each other or combined and will show disgust at the smell or sight of non-accepted foods.

Students should work in small groups alongside others with similar issues. They should have the opportunity to explore a variety of wet and dry foods at their own pace. The emphasis is on enjoyment and should be encouraged to touch, smell and play with the food using utensils such as paint brushes. It is helpful for the students to share ideas as well as observe each other as they play and explore. The sessions should be very relaxed and always fun whilst encompassing many areas of the curriculum. This can be worked into ‘little group/attention autism’ you can make a fruit salad, bean painting or pasta picture in a weekly activity.

Fun with food sessions should be done away from where the student normally eats and not carried out at mealtimes. When you think your students are ready to have a food introduced at mealtimes, place the targeted food on a separate plate a little distance away from your student.

There should be no expectation to eat it the first time it is introduced. Gradually move it closer and when you think your students are ready, place it on their plate. Encourage the pupils to tolerate the food on their plate then lick or taste it when they are ready.

Foods possibilities;

  • Pasta
  • Custard
  • Cereal
  • Jelly
  • Rice
  • Popcorn
  • Beans
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Spaghetti hoops
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Jam
  • Water

Example activities 

  • Target foods: pasta and sauce Start with dry pasta (variety of shapes and colours)
  • Choose activities – threading, pictures, patterns etc.
  • Progress to cooked pasta Continue with play activities.
  • Encourage smelling it, when happy to smell it progress to licking it
  • When the student is happy to lick it progress to biting it (no pressure to swallow)

When happy to bite it progress to eating one small piece

The aim is to tolerate food item on plate at snack/mealtimes. Progress to pasta with sauce eg tomato ketchup and continue with play activities to allow your student to become familiar with the smell and texture of it.

Top tips for success

  • Start with dry foods eg pasta and progress to wet foods (cooked pasta).

  • Then encourage mixing foods/textures together.

  • Vary temperature of food if possible.

  • Encourage child to assist with tidying up/washing up if possible.

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