There are a multitude of reasons a child can be a picky eater, from personality traits to social and paternal/maternal influences and eating patterns. Sometimes, your kid is just a kid.
Here is a list of 11 at-home tips from our Westside experts to help your picky eaters and problem feeders adjust to healthier, happier eating habits at mealtime:
- Have fun with food!
Getting messy is an important part of your child’s development. Touch is the best way for kids to learn about their environment. Allow your child to explore textures as he/she feels comfortable. Present food to your picky eater in new and exciting ways (i.e. a bagel pizza with a face out of pepperoni, a shake made with yogurt, or different kinds of dipping sauces… kids love to dip!). Try Jell-O Finger Paint or Nutty Butter Play Dough!
- Stay positive! Use praise and cheers. Praise any positive behavior (i.e. “I like how you took a bite of that new food.” or “Good job touching your peas.”). Avoid constantly telling them to eat or other negative comments. We want eating to be a positive experience and not a battleground over food!
- Avoid distractions during the meals. No TV, animals, or toys should be at the table or within viewing distance. Have only food-related items in front of the child.
- Expose your kids to a variety of different foods. At every snack or meal, offer at least one protein, one starch, one fruit or vegetable.
- Reduce snacking in between mealtimes or snack times and provide only water. Do NOT allow your picky eater to graze or eat whenever they want throughout the day. Kids can easily fill up on these drinks between meals, so try offering water between meals and mile or juice with or even after every meal.
- Offer one particular food only every other day and don’t be a short-order cook. Don’t get into the habit of making the child separate meals. Encourage them to stay at the table during mealtime, even if they choose not to eat. Rotate foods so the child does not have the same food every day. Make a list of the foods your child likes and rotate them to prevent “burn out.”
- Find a mealtime routine that works for you and your family and stick with it. Be consistent and have a routine for your picky eater. Children rely on routine to feel safe and comfortable. When mealtimes are hard for children, setting the expectations is essential in helping them be successful when eating.
- Social modeling. Set a good example and sit down and eat with the child. Even having an older sibling who is eating the same thing can make a world of difference.
- Don’t offer too much at one time. We don’t want to overwhelm the child! Use a small plate, offer 3 foods at a time, and keep the food volume age appropriate.
- Let your child help plan and prepare meals. Children love to feel like they are contributing and preparation builds an appetite and teaches responsibility.
- Force feeding or asking a child to eat, taste or try a food they don’t want can create super-cautious or resistant behaviors that often get worse over time. It’s your child’s body, give them control over it. Letting children explore food on their own terms leads to better eating and happier mealtimes for your picky eater.
Westside Children’s Therapy offers Feeding Therapy to help guide your child’s eating patterns to create an environment and set of behaviors which will help make mealtime more enjoyable for your child and your family. To learn more about how Westside can help your picky eater, visit our Feeding Therapy page.