9 CVI adaptations for mealtime

Strategies to support a more productive meal and snack time for your child with CVI

Boy with CVI eating a meal with blue plate and water bottle, and a black mat on the table

Nine strategies that support the use of visual attention, visual recognition, and visual motor skills while eating

Families can take advantage of the relative strengths and abilities of your child with CVI to support a more productive mealtime experience. Read about why the CVI visual behaviors and characteristics make it so hard for kids with CVI to eat. The suggestions below are meant to offer inspiration to try individualized strategies matched to your child’s needs as identified through assessment

1. Targeted and intentional use of color 

  • Use a preferred or highly saturated single-color plate, cup, or utensils. 
  • Place colored tape on the handle of a utensil, near the tip of a straw, or on the syringe of a feeding tube.

2. Visually simplify 

  • Position your child facing a blank wall or use a trifold to reduce background clutter.
  • Use a black mat on the table. Many parents like silicon mats or Dycem mats.
  • Try a compartment plate to provide space between food items. Or try a bowl with just one type of food at a time. 
  • Use a black or dark-colored plate to help provide high contrast with the food.

3. Use of light 

  • Dim or brighten the room lights, depending on the needs of your child.
  • Use a tabletop lamp or flashlight to provide task lighting on the eating area.
  • Place a small LED light under a bowl, on a spoon, or on a finger when feeding your child.

4. Familiarity and predictability 

  • Each type of food item has a consistent place on the plate. For example, vegetables are always at the top right corner, or starches are on the left. 
  • Use a familiar plate, bowl, cup, or utensil and place each in the same arrangement on the table. As your child builds visual recognition, they may be able to use different feeding items. 

5. Visual field abilities

  • If feeding your child, place the spoon in the preferred visual field until your child attends to it and then move the spoon towards your child’s mouth.
  • Alert your child to any food they missed on the plate or bowl, or rotate the plate periodically, so all the food items have a moment in the child’s preferred visual field. 

6. Physical positioning

  • Use highly supportive seating to help coordinate all systems needed to feed. Parents report that their child likes to feel contained while eating and needs to feel grounded with their feet on the floor while sitting in a high back chair. 
  • Consult with your child’s physical therapist and occupational therapist to help identify safe and efficient positioning for your child.

7. Reduce sensory complexity

  • Cultivate a quiet eating time—TV off, low voices, reduce discussion at the table, and minimize distractions.

8. Exploration and description

  • Describe what’s on the plate, in the bowl, or in the feeding tube.
  • Allow your child to explore foods. Talk about textures and how the food feels—crunchy, chewy, mushy, slimy, oily. 

9. Sensory inputs

  • Some parents share that their child likes their favorite music at low volume during mealtime or a favorite toy. 
  • Compartment plates can offer tactile input to scoop up food or know when finding a new food item. Bowls are also a great option to support tactile input and use of a spoon.
  • Some kids may need the tactile input of exploring foods with their hands to support vision use.

Two examples of mealtime setups that employ many of the strategies described above. In the first image, notice the use of preferred eating tools and the intentional use of color on the straw. For the second image, notice the positioning facing a blank wall, two fidget toys for tactile sensory input, and the tangible symbol schedule: mealtime then dessert.

Image of a meal time set up: black mat, blue plate, blue cup with orange tape on straw, and a blue spon

Mealtime set up for child with CVI. Black mat, yellow compartment plate, adapted spoon, fidget toys, and tangible icons for mealtime and dessert

Eating and CVI is such a popular topic in the CVI family community. Read one parent’s blog post: CVI Mealtime Strategies, EverydayCVI.com