ABILENE, Texas - We're hearing more and more about the importance of kids getting nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
But we're also hearing more and more of "my kids won't eat them," so much so that an occupational therapist started a food therapy school.
She calls it an epidemic.
"We'll eat Cheeze-Its, Goldfish, chicken nuggets, and maybe one other food in there. I get that all the time," occupational therapist Amy Gibbs said.
Gibbs said that is what she hears frequently from parents, desperate to get their kids to eat better.
"I had no idea the demand was this big. Kids just started popping up, 'We need feeding, too. We need feeding, too. We're a very picky eater. We don't eat more than four things,'" Gibbs said.
That's how the Food Therapy School was born at The West Texas Rehab Center. Gibbs got certified in a food therapy program developed by a pediatric psychologist. Gibbs gave a breakdown of how it works:
"The goal with food therapy is to desensitize your child to foods and to teach them what it is that foods are all about. The idea is to teach the child just like a circle is round and a square has four corners, a carrot is crunchy. We use language like how does it smell? What does it look like? You're not allowed to say if you like it or if you don't like it. If you're not ready to eat it you just say, 'Miss Amy, I'm not ready to eat that yet.'"
But the question is, are the kids biting? Gibbs says they sure are.
"We'll see a child touch something they've never touched before or put something in their mouth they've never put in their mouth before. And sometimes we'll see that in the first or second session," said Gibbs.
So what's the secret? Gibbs said it's all about teaching and not forcing.
"I think the most important thing is teaching the positive interaction with food instead verses being forced to eat four bites of corn before you get up because you're four years old," Gibbs said. "The first time a child puts food in their mouth you don't want to say, 'Do you like it?' We don't want to pressure them in to it."
"What comes out of the parent's mouth is really important. Using words that describe food and not words that describe feelings, like 'Do you like it?' or 'I love it, it's so yummy!' Those are words that describe how you feel about food. Use words that describe food like 'It's crunchy like your goldfish or it's orange like your goldfish.' You're preparing them to interact with food for the rest of their life."
The kids "graduate" from food therapy school when they have worked their way up to 10 fruits and vegetables and 10 proteins.
Currently, about 45 to 47 kids attend food therapy school at the rehab center every week. The school serves kids ranging from 18 months old to up to 15 years. Depending on who your insurance provider is, you may be covered for the service. Just check with your provider.
To get more information on the services offered at the West Texas Rehab Center you can get to their website by CLICKING HERE. Their phone number is listed at the very bottom of the screen.
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