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Advice for Parents with Picky Eaters

There are multiple reasons why a child may be a picky eater. Some reasons are related to the child’s body which they cannot fix on their own, and other reasons are more related to psychology. Examples include:

  • Sensitivity to smells or textures

  • Anxiety

  • Fear of trying something new

  • Pain or how the child’s body reacts after food

  • Palette or how quickly the path from chewing to swallowing is

  • Processing or how the child interacts with the sights and sounds associated with eating

One of the most important things for parents to understand when engaging with a picky eater is that your parenting style cannot cause picky eating, but how you choose to handle your picky eater can make their eating habits better or worse, especially once your child learns that they are separate from their parents and attempt to test boundaries, this will typically begin around the ages of 1-2 years.

There are decades of research when it comes to engaging with a picky eater and how to best get your child to try new foods, as well as ways to still control what your child is consuming on a day to day basis. Some of the top tips and tricks for getting your child to eat more foods are as follows:

  • Start “no-pressure” meals - This means let your child decide how much of each food they want to eat or if they want to eat at all. This will allow for an inviting environment for your child to learn about new foods and in turn learn to like new foods.

  • Say, “You can try it when you are ready” - This means you can have your child sit at the table for an appropriate amount of time before allowing them to dismiss themselves if they are not feeling ready to try the new food. However, you should make sure to put at least some food that you know they like on the table so they have something to eat if they are hungry.

  • Set an Eating Schedule - This means having kitchen open and closed hours to limit the amount of snacks and grazing that occurs in the kitchen throughout the day. This will allow the child to be more willing to try new foods at meal times because they will actually be hungry. Having meals and snacks scheduled routinely to occur every 2-4 hours will help to improve picky eating.

  • Sit down together to eat - This means have the whole family sit down together for meal times and have your child sit down in the eating space to have their snacks. This will allow your child to slow down and listen to their bodies which will in turn make them more likely to try new foods.

  • Set the menu - This means that you should be serving balanced meals and snacks that include the nutrients that are important for your child’s growth and development while giving them the option of whether or not to eat what you are providing them. While your child may choose to not eat what you are offering them, you know that it is their choice.

  • Add fun to the meals - This means a variety of things, one of them being cutting foods into familiar fun shapes to make eating fun (i.e. cutting sandwiches into triangles instead of squares). Another example is getting your child involved in preparing their food with age appropriate utensils while still setting boundaries to keep them clean and safe.

  • Expose the child to the food repeatedly - This means that regardless if your child chooses to try the food you prepare for them, try serving it again at a different time to see if they are willing to try it then.

  • Use fun facts about food - This means you should teach your child about what foods are good and bad for them by telling them what the food will do for their body (i.e. Carrots have vitamin A which helps us see in the dark”. This allows children to learn to care for their bodies while having a good relationship with food. The information that you teach your child should be age appropriate in order to best help combat picky eating.

  • Make dessert equal to other food groups - This means do not use dessert as a bribe to get your child to eat their dinner, this molds their mindset to think that dessert is better than dinner. You can improve this relationship with food by serving dessert with dinner so that all foods are seen as equal or with other foods, but should not be linked to eating a certain amount of the meal provided.

  • Monkey See, Monkey Do - This means you should model the behavior that you wish to see out of your child. If your child sees you eating a variety of foods, they are more likely to try those same foods. Demonstrate eating meals with the family rather than snacking throughout the day to show your child what a good relationship with food looks like.

By following the tips listed above, you can have the picky eater in your life on the right track to eating more foods.

For additional support, call the clinic and schedule an evaluation with one of our therapists!

Blog written by Dr Jena Weber, DPT


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