Taster Tots Expands The Menu

Grace with her mom.

Some children try any food placed in their sticky, little hands, and some scream and flail any time something unfamiliar is on their plate. But what happens when a child is so picky they won’t eat anything? One mom sought to find the solution to this culinary conundrum.

“A few years ago, my daughter Evelyn, who is 6, started drastically reducing her diet to the point where she only had five or six things that she was eating,” said Garden City resident Kate Haanraadts. “I panicked because you can’t live life like that and it was continuously getting worse.”

Haanraadts turned to feeding therapists, who offered her daughter nothing but making pictures out of food, which “doesn’t translate to getting the food into the kid’s mouth.” She eventually connected with a feeding therapist who specialized in what’s called SOS feeding therapy.

An acronym for Sequential Oral Sensory, SOS is a method of feeding therapy through which the child is encouraged to become familiar with the scent and texture of a food in order to feel comfortable enough to eventually eat it.

“I started going to this feeding therapist with [Evelyn] and we went for a couple of years, so we had so much practice that I became really good at it,” Haanraadts explained.

Jackson participating
in Taster Tots.

Having worked in creative fields for a living, Haanraadts had no trouble getting to work and created two designs for a game about a year and a half ago.

“Right now they’re just 8½ by 11 printouts. I have to try to get this published, but I have more design work to do,” she said. “Eventually what I’m going to do is make tear-off pads and I’m going to sell those. Hopefully with a few different designs on each pad so that parents can do it at home, and it’s more visually fun for kids if it’s different every time.”

After seeing the success of her game with her own daughter and knowing other parents must be unaware of how to solve similar feeding issues with their children, Haanraadts considered how to open it up to other parents. She started by exclusively using the game with Evelyn and her friends during play dates and then, last August, she brainstormed and created the Taster Tots Club.

Meetings, which typically occur twice a month, are $15 for a 45-minute session at Haanraadts’ house during which she introduces three different foods, from three different food groups, to the children. Geared toward kids between the ages of 3 and 6, Taster Tots meetings usually see between three and five children.

“I ask the parents to give me a list of foods that their kids currently eat and foods that they used to eat, because I’ll try to kind of go toward foods that they used to eat to try to bring those back in,” she explained. “Those [foods] will be quicker for parents to get the kids to eat again.”

Kate Haanraadts

While the ultimate goal of meetings is to have each child eat each food, that doesn’t determine whether or not they win the board game.

“The goal of the game is really for kids to just learn about the foods,” Haanraadts said. “When they come here, I don’t tell these kids ‘you’re going to try this food, you’re going to eat it.’ I don’t do that at all. As soon as you start telling them they’re going to eat something, they completely shut down.”

Lauren Scarantino Hulla, whose daughter ended up eating an entire slice of bell pepper that was presented to her at a recent Taster Tots meeting, said she brought Grace there because she wants her to develop good eating habits.

“I thought it would be a good way to introduce her to new food at a young age,” she said.

Haanraadts said that meetings are always successful. Whether a child eats one food or all three foods given to them, they always make progress that their parents are “flabbergasted” by. The success of her meetings is, no doubt, driven by her constant positive attitude.

“You can’t have any negativity in this. Everything is a success, everyone wins the game no matter how far along they get. You always win.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/tastertot.

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