Feeding, often referred to as self-feeding, is the process of setting up, arranging and bringing food from plate to mouth. Feeding and eating the right amount and variety of foods is critical to healthy growth and development of children. During development, children shift from being dependent on parents for feeding to independently selecting, preparing and eating meals or snacks. The ability to self-feed involves oral motor and fine motor skills, as well as the tolerance and desire to explore new tastes and textures.
Children with medical, behavioral or sensory/motor challenges may demonstrate difficulty gaining weight, extended mealtimes, food refusal/selectivity and delayed ability to use utensils for eating. Occupational therapy and speech therapy can assist children in developing fine motor skills and sensory modulation necessary for expanding dietary choices and gaining independence in self-feeding. Assessing and treating swallowing is a specialized area of treatment. Speech and language pathologists also focus on the ability to adequately chew and mobilize the tongue to prepare food for swallowing.