Are you dealing with a fussy or problem eater at home? The SOS approach to feeding might be the solution you’re looking for. This evidence-based approach takes a holistic approach to your child’s feeding habits.

Our newest team member, Hayley Heaney, is a registered nutritionist and feeding therapist who utilises the SOS approach to help children develop a healthy and enjoyable, lifelong relationship with food.

In fact, it was Hayley’s own struggles with her second son’s fussy eating that led her to the practical and actionable steps that the SOS approach has to offer.

Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more about the SOS approach to feeding and how it can help fussy and problem eaters.

What is the SOS approach to feeding?

SOS stands for Sequential-Oral-Sensory – or alternatively, Save Our Ships! It was developed by a paediatric psychologist with 30 years of experience. It focuses on the sensory aspects of food.

Feeding is not simply putting food into our mouths and eating it. There is a lot going on as we eat that can influence eating. We need to consider:

  • The environment where eating takes place
  • The senses
  • Oral motor skills
  • Any behaviour or anxiety around food
  • Nutrition status
  • The language used around food
  • Physical posture of the child

If your child has specific food preferences or eats a restrictive diet, the SOS approach looks at why this is.

Although we might think eating is simple, there are actually 32 steps in the process of feeding. The SOS approach guides the child through these steps based on their comfort level. For example, a child needs to tolerate, interact with, touch and smell a food before they will bite and swallow.

Therapy is play-based for younger children. We ensure that there is no pressure and that we’re working with their comfort level around food.

For older children who may not respond to play-based therapy, we use an adapted version. This is known as the Food Scientist Model. We can use this adaptation for children aged 7+, all the way up to older teens.

How do I know if the SOS approach to feeding is going to help my child?

The SOS approach can be adapted to any child – from mildly fussy eaters all the way through to problem eaters.

Some signs that you could benefit from implementing the SOS approach include:

  • Mealtimes at your house are constantly stressful because of your child’s fussiness
  • You have concerns about the lack of variety in your child’s diet
  • You were told that your child will outgrow their fussy eating – but they haven’t
  • Your child fixates on specific foods or textures
  • When a new food is introduced, there are tantrums or meltdowns

It’s important to know that feeding issues are common. In fact, 1 in 4 children who are fussy eaters will go on to have problems with feeding due to one or more underlying issues.

What is the difference between a fussy eater and a problem eater?

You might hear these terms used interchangeably. But there is a difference between a fussy eater and a problem eater.

A fussy eater will eat between 20-30 different foods. They may be open to trying new foods if given positive reinforcement. They eat meals with the family, even if they have a slightly different version of the meal prepared.

A problem eater will consume less than 20 foods. If offered a new food, they won’t try it, no matter what. They may even cry or fall apart at the thought of a new food being on their plate.

It’s common for them to fixate on specific textures, refuse entire food groups, and even have preferred brands of foods. Their focus is only eating foods that they feel safe with.

The good news is that the SOS approach can help with both fussy and problem eaters.

What happens during an SOS session?

We start by taking a full background of your child. This includes there medical history and feeding history. We’ll look for potential flags such as chronic constipation, pre-term birth or reflux as a baby.

From there, we’ll create a personalised plan based on your child’s case. The goal is to work up through the 32 steps so your child can develop a healthy relationship with a variety of foods.

Some of the strategies we cover include seating, the language used around food and behaviour during mealtimes. Taking videos and photos can help us to assess your child’s posture and behaviour while eating.

As a feeding therapist, it’s my job to guide you throughout this journey and support you. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so we’ll focus on celebrating the small wins.

The most important part of using the SOS approach is consistency. After all, our kids eat 3-5 times a day, so that’s 3-5 opportunities for positive interactions with food!

Do you have anything else to share with parents of fussy eaters?

The most important thing to remember is that your child’s fussy eating is not your fault.

Parents put so much pressure on themselves and feel guilty when their children are fussy with food. But there is no research that shows that fussy eating is linked to the parent.

Ongoing fussy eating or problem eating indicates there is an underlying problem to be solved. This happens to a lot of kids, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Interested in the SOS approach to feeding for your child?

If you’d like to find out if this approach is a fit for your child, book a free 15 minute chat with Hayley here.

You can also check out Hayley’s consultations and packages here.