As well as having good role models and not adding pressure to a child to eat their food, the physical environment they are in can have an impact on what they eat.
The room environment includes:
- how it looks (warm, inviting, dark, bright)
- how it feels (hot, cold)
- what it smells like – and the strength of those smells (positive and negatives ones)
- how it sounds (again both positive and negatives ones)
For children with heightened senses, strong smells can be off-putting, as can loud or very bright environments. For these children, things like serving food away from the kitchen smells, opening a window, lowering the lights or having headphones on when eating can be helpful.
A consistent food environment reduces stress levels. This has been shown to be particularly important for people with autism, (8) although most children like consistency. Knowing when food will be offered, where and what the table rules are can help the child to feel comfortable.
The environment also includes where a child is to eat – at a table, on the floor, or moving around. Not only is sitting safer than moving around with food, sitting in a comfortable chair with a back and foot support helps a child to be secure and then focus more on the food than on maintaining posture,
Finally, the room environment includes social pressure or calm. A positive social environment would be one where the child can eat with others without the TV or other devices. (9) and be involved in conversation which is meaningful to them. (10) Social pressure includes a child being excluded from conversations, comparisons being made with other siblings/adults about the way they eat, being told to keep quiet, or stay at the table whilst adults finish.