How to Help Your Picky Eater (and When to Seek Professional Help)

There are lots of reasons children might exhibit ‘picky eating.’ In some cases it’s just a normal way of asserting independence. In other cases, your child may just not like the taste of certain foods, in the same way the rest of us have some foods we like and others we dislike.

In other cases, physiological factors may be playing a role, in which case it’s important to consult with your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare professional. We’ll take a look at other reasons for picky eating and when to seek professional help in our next blog post. But if you’ve ruled out more serious reasons and are just looking for ways to help your child become a more adventurous eater, read on…

What is Picky Eating?
If you have a picky eater, you probably don’t need us to tell you what it looks like! But for the sake of clarity, here are some common signs of picky eating:

  • Refusal of certain foods based on textures, smells, and appearances
  • Avoidance of entire categories of foods, such as meat, fruits, vegetables, etc.
  • Intolerance when foods are touching on the plate
  • Restricted diet/limited variety
  • Behaviors around mealtimes, such as refusal to try new foods
  • Strong feelings around mealtimes, such as fear, nervousness, anxiety, or anger while eating

How to Help Your Picky Eater

It can be stressful and frustrating at times to feed a picky eater, but it’s important to remain calm and keep mealtimes as stress-free as possible for your child. Other steps you can take with your child include: 

  • Continue to present the same novel food items on the child’s plate without any pressure to try. You can gently encourage other interactions such as smelling, touching, “kissing” novel food items if the child is willing.
  • Change up presentation methods. For example, if blueberries are the target, try offering blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, smoothies with blueberries, as well as by themselves. 
  • Incorporate your child in meal preparation. Allow them to “help” by adding ingredients, mixing, and taste-testing. Be sure to keep them away from hot pots or pans, hot surfaces, open flames, and sharp objects to prevent injury.
  • Honor your child’s satiety cues. If your child says that he/she is full, is important to trust that your child knows how to read their body’s cues 
  • Don’t use preferred food as a motivator to try new foods (for example “if you take a bite you can have dessert”).
  • Limit environmental distractions, such as noisy settings, electronic devices, TV, etc. 
  • Provide optimal seating for mealtimes, such as a chair, high-chair or booster that allows the child to maintain an upright position with a supportive platform for his/her feet to optimize feeding safety. 
  • Play with food. Yes, you heard that correctly! It’s okay to get messy! Allow your child to explore food in a way that is non-threatening. You can even incorporate some of the child’s favorite toys in messy food play, such as plastic figurines, or other items that can be easily cleaned. 

By working with your child to try new foods from an early age, you can set them up for a lifetime of eating a healthful variety of foods. If you’re concerned that your child may have physiological factors contributing to their picky eating, the speech-language pathologists at BRAINS can help. Contact us at 616-365-8920 for a free consultation call.