Picky eaters although common for toddlers, is a growing issue. Children begin to develop a taste for favorite foods and eat the same thing daily. Then to keep you on your toes, the next day they have no desire to even look at that same food. Although this is a typical behavior, it can become frustrating when your child decides they don’t want to eat anything. Here are some ways to help you get your child to be less picky…
Sit down for dinner
This shows that dinner is a fun time for discussions and eating. It is so easy to have the tv on in the background or turn a tablet/iPad on. However, to help develop healthy eaters, we want them to focus on what is happening at the table during mealtime. This includes proper use of utensils, watching others properly modeling behaviors, and getting used to the sights, sounds, tastes, and textures of all the foods. If possible, try to incorporate their favorite foods into the dinner.
It is ok if your child skips a snack or meal
If your child ate a big breakfast, they may night be hungry for lunch. That’s ok. If your child is a healthy weight, is thriving then that is ok. As a mother, I always feel better after my child eats. However, I have realized that what I think is different than what is. I wanted my daughter to eat Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. That is what I was taught. However, my daughter does not like to eat breakfast. I would argue it is the healthiest meal of the day, it helps start digestion, facts I heard over and over again. My daughter stated she felt sick after eating breakfast. I had to adapt my preconceived notions and let her eat when she is hungry. She now has a very healthy diet, and at 13 still prefers to not eat breakfast.
Don’t Give Up
If your child does not want to try the new food, put it on their plate, have them smell it, lick it, cut it with a plastic knife anything to get them used to the new food. Over time, they will become acclimated to the sight, smell, and texture of the new food and be more willing to try it.
Have your child help season the food
You can have your child pick different spices and sprinkle them onto the food. Some picky eaters are sensory seekers and require additional flavoring such as sour or spice. By simply adding flavors, your will be more tolerant of new foods. For example, I let my children add Tajin or a sprinkle of lemon salt to fruits. It is amazing how these spices enhance the fruit’s flavor.
As always try to Play with Your Food!!!
Making fun shapes and using bright colors will have your child wanting to eat. Using the visual sense to make the food look more appealing will help your child be interested in trying the food. Slicing cucumbers and making them into a caterpillar or apple slices in the shape of a flower. You can encourage language into this activity for example, “I made a flower out of a red apple, What is your favorite color flower?”
Help Them Make Choices
As I have said before, children don’t feel in control of much. Eating is something they have control over. Children struggling with sensory processing disorders or anxiety will usually have food issues. As a result, having your child help chose what to make for dinner or pick between 2 vegetables or 2 sides will help them feel in control and therefore more likely to eat the food.
Handy Helpers or Little Chefs
I usually have my children participate in some of the meal preparation, from cutting vegetables or putting items into a pan, measuring, pouring, mixing are all great ways to build your fine motor skills while helping. Seeing the process of how to make food may help your child want to try it.
I was working with a 2-year-old recently who has tactile sensitivity, When carving out a pumpkin he did not like the texture of the inside. I told mom to get a pan and place parchment paper on it. We had him count the seeds as we placed them onto the pan. When he put them on the parchment paper, I told her to get salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and olive oil. We proceeded to make pumpkin seeds. Mom put them in the oven while we completed some exercises. At the end of the session, he ate the seeds because they were spicey and crunchy. He then asked if he could make more and we said yes, but you have to help scoop out some more seeds. This was a great way to have him want to take out more seeds, desensitizing while being productive!!
Children love to explore
Have your child dip a celery or carrot stick into different flavors. You can play a game with it by playing a matching game, You can place 3 types of flavors and see if your child can guess what each flavor is. This is a great way to have fun while trying new foods.
Keep a fun journal that your child can have you write in
You can decorate the pages with stickers, or have them color in pictures. If your child tried a carrot, draw a carrot and have your child color it in, write adjectives describing the carrot, it is crunchy, or orange. They can put a check or x at the bottom symbolizing if they liked the food or not. You can read the journal at the end of the week. This will help your child see that they tried lots of new foods and feel accomplished.
Being a parent is hard, being a parent with a picky eater is even harder. Patience and creativity will help your child overcome adversities and allow your bond to strengthen. If you feel your child has any nutritional concerns, please speak to your pediatrician.
Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L is the author of “Play With Your Food” and is a specialist in her field.