Generally speaking, Little Miss is a sensory seeker. She loves nothing better than touching, exploring, and fiddling with new things.
Except, that is, when it comes to meal times.
She hates anything near her face and is extremely sensitive to things in her mouth, including (yes) spoons, and especially food.
After nearly two years of every-other-week occupational therapy, Little Miss tolerates some spoon feeding and is much more willing to pick up and eat many foods with her fingers. But most meals are still an ordeal.
She will start out OK and we sometimes even get a few bites into her… but it quickly descends into kicking the chair, dumping pieces of food from one dish to another, wiggling, trying to stand up in the high chair, and blocking our attempts to feed her by cramming a sippy cup into her mouth. Or my personal favorite… throwing the food piece by piece onto the floor.
One night, we were having a particularly difficult time feeding Little Miss. She had eaten next to nothing all day and loudly declared “all done!” immediately after being plopped in the high chair in front of her dinner (and just for the record, she had chosen her dinner after being offered several choices). We tried our last-ditch feeding method (I hold her arms while my husband puts a tiny piece of food into her mouth), but the food was immediately spit back out. Ugh.
There just happened to be a book on the floor nearby, so I picked it up and started reading. Little Miss was immediately transfixed. As I read, my husband tried another small piece of food. It went in! Then another, and another! We finished the first book and went for another. And Little Miss kept eating! That night, for the first time in as long as either of us could remember, she cleared her plate.
And so, the “dinner box” was born.
The name “dinner box” is really a bit of a misnomer since we use it at all meal times. It contains special books and toys that are not to be played with at any other time of the day. The books and toys are rotated regularly so that things are fresh and interesting for Little Miss and there is always something new to captivate her attention.
So, what’s in our dinner box?
We’ve learned through trial and error some of the best things to include in our dinner box.
The best books for a dinner box are ones with LOTS of pictures. For Little Miss’s age and language skills, first words books have worked really well. An older child might appreciate I Spy books or Eye Witness books that have more age-appropriate content.
We chose books with lots of pictures because we’re not roped into a single story. If the book just has one story with a finite ending and your child takes longer than the time it takes to read the story to eat, you’re going to be running through your books more quickly. With the aid of lots of pictures, we can make up our own stories and puzzles, making the book virtually never-ending.
Another good point on the books is to choose titles that either can get food on them (because they will) or board books the wipe clean easily. Another good choice for older kids is a magazine that can be recycled when the interest has run its course. I recommend Zoo Books or Ranger Rick for some fun, educational dinner reading.
For fidget toys, we recommend age-appropriate goodies that are (once again) easy to clean and small enough to fit in the child’s eating area without knocking food on the floor. Case in point, our “dinner dino,” shown above, seemed like a really good idea — his jointed parts allow for endless fiddling and because you can pose him, he can even pretend to eat dinner with our daughter. However, his long tail was just used the other night to accidentally sweep an entire plate of food onto the floor. We still do offer our Melissa & Doug Dinosaur, but only after Little Miss’s plate has been moved a safe distance away!
The kitty (by TOLO) turned out to be a much better option than the dinosaur. It has lots of moving parts that make satisfying clicking noises when twisted. Kitty can also be posed to “eat” some of Little Miss’s diner with her and clean up in soapy water!
I’d love to know if anyone out there decides to try a dinner box after reading the post or if you have any other suggestions for working with a fidgety AND fussy eater — so leave us a note in the comments. And thanks for visiting!