When you hear the term “picky eater,” what comes to mind? Do you imagine yourself as a child sitting at the table being told to eat everything on your plate? Do you think of your co-worker who refuses to eat vegetables? Do you think of your child?
If it is the latter, then you’ve come to the right place. While it might seem like every meal is a battle, the truth is that with some help from you, your child will begin to be more comfortable around unfamiliar foods and will grow to explore various foods more.
The following tips can be implemented with a child of any age, and are good for the entire family- not just your child who is a picky eater!
“What can I do?”
1. Remember that food is to be enjoyed!
Mealtimes are a time to come together and nourish our bodies while experiencing the pleasure that foods have to offer us. Think about how you yourself approach food and the perspective your family might have, as this impacts how your and your child view various food items. Healthy food is not synonymous with less desirable/delicious food!
2. Eat together when possible.
Children will do as we do, not as we say! Eating together is a chance to provide an example of food exploration and enjoyment. You don’t have to all gather around the table if that isn’t something your family does, but do try to ensure that there is at least one adult with your child to act as an example. Limit distractions, as this can take away from both the sensory experience of food as well as the social interactions you will have with your child.
3. Don’t be a short-order cook- instead continue to provide a variety.
Unless your child is an adventurous eater, most children are not willing to try a new food the first few times they encounter it. If you offer a food item to your child and they refuse it multiple times, this does not mean that they don’t like it or should not be offered that food again. Instead, let them know they do not have to eat it right now, but it will remain on their plate for the entire mealtime.
During mealtimes, prepare a meal as you typically would for your family, with one expectation being that you are mindful to make at least one food item that your child who is a picky eater enjoys. That way your child has something to ease their hunger while still being provided with other food options to explore.
4. Never force your child to eat a certain food item.
Contrary to some popular recommendations, I never force my feeding patients take “no thank-you bites.” Instead, I provide them with the option to refuse, while enticing them with something I know they will enjoy.
For example, if a child is reluctant to taste a food item, I bring out a highly motivating toy (that fosters social interaction) as a reward for exploring the food. The child always has the option to refuse to interact with the food, but in turn knows they will not be able to play with the toy until they try. This is almost like a “forced choice,” but it still allows your child the freedom to refuse a food until they are ready to explore it.
“But what if I think my child is more than a picky eater?”
These are just a few tips to help make mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone in your family, but they may not work well if your child has serious aversions to food, or another underlying issue. Children who refuse to eat certain food textures, colors, or who have an extremely strong reaction to a non-preferred food may be more than a picky eater. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s eating habits and attitudes towards food, contact us for a free discovery visit and we can help provide you with the support you need.
Thank you for joining us, and look for more feeding tips to come.
Audrey Motta-Wurst, M.S., CCC-SLP
If you would like to give Audrey, or another one of our speech therapists a call to ask some questions, please don't hesitate to do so! Our number is 253.237.3405.