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Six Ways to Help With Picky Eating

We know how frustrating mealtimes can feel when you’re trying your best to get your little one to eat something…anything! From preparing the healthiest foods to begging them to at least take one bite of their carrot, it can feel defeating when the food is pushed aside again. I know as parents we just want what’s best for our children, especially as their brains are growing at lightening speed. So what can you do when it feels like you’ve tried EVERYTHING and it feels like your child will never stop with picky eating?

First, take a deep breath. You’re doing your best for your child. Here are a few ideas to try at mealtimes to reduce picky eating:

1.Play with your food! Yep, get messy. I know it goes against every instinct and everything we were taught growing up, but eating is a sensory experience. Many children can benefit from exploring foods in a way that goes beyond their mouths. How does the food feel? Smell? What does it look like? This will hopefully lead to them tasting it and eventually taking a bite! Leave your expectations at the counter and let your little one get messy. You can always show them how by picking up a small piece of their food and talking about it, squishing it, modeling taking a taste. You can even make it a game where the cucumber slice hops over the banana. Make it fun! And if things get a little messy, bonus points to you!

2. Limit distractions. I know, I know. This can be easier said than done! Distractions like the iPad or having the TV on can actually be serving as more of a band-aid than solving the root cause of the picky eating. It’s so beneficial for a kid to see others at the table- watching how they eat, hearing everyone communicating, being exposed to the sights and smells of the foods even if they aren’t eating them quite yet. Again, the entire sensory experience matters! Having your child participate fully in the entire mealtime experience can set them up for an overall more positive experience as well. Does every day have to be 100% perfect? Of course not! Do your best to limit distractions during meals and you’ll be increasing the chances of your little eater having a more positive experience overall.

3. Structure meals as much as is reasonable. This one is, in my opinion, a big one. Kids are still learning hunger and full cues and if a little one has snacks that are always available or is able to wander around “grazing” with said snacks, this will impact hunger during meals as well as willingness to sit down with the family to eat. Everyone’s family situation and scheduling will look different, but doing your best to structure three meals and 1-2 snacks will be helpful. Making sure there is time between each meal/snack will increase the likelihood that your little one will not only sit at the table but will be more open to new foods. Think about it- if you’ve snacked on crackers while making dinner doesn’t it make it harder to enjoy your meal? It’s similar for little ones! When you get to a place of structured meals, introduce 1-2 new foods before a child’s preferred foods. Try to keep mealtimes to around 30 minutes as well. After that, it can be stressful for both you and your little one.

4. Keep trying! It can take many, many exposures (even up to 15 or more!) to a new food for a child to try it. If something doesn’t go over well the first time, don’t give up! Especially if it’s a meal or flavor that’s important to your family. Some ways to expose your little ones to new foods are watching you or family eat it, playing with it themselves, and, if they’re able, even having them help you prepare the food. Take a deep breath if your child avoids the food the first, second, third, or even the tenth time that you serve it.

5. Keep it positive! Again, I know this can be hard. Children can sense when we’re frustrated or angry and bringing that to the table can impact their willingness to try new foods and/or have a calm mealtime. I typically recommend the parent decides the “what, when, and where” the child eats and the child decides the “how much”. It’s our job to provide the structure and keep calm during meals, even if the child isn’t eating all or exactly what we want them to. Celebrate the wins too - say your child didn’t eat the broccoli but they didn’t throw it off their plate! That can be a win.

6. Consider a feeding evaluation from a trained therapist. One trained in orofacial myofunctional disorders would be even better! There are many factors involved in picky or selective eating and having someone who is trained across the board can help give you a comprehensive picture of what’s going on and a solid game plan on how to help. If you’ve been trying some of these strategies or are just feeling completely fed up at meal times, it might be time to consider a feeding therapist. Picky and selective eating can be so multifaceted so taking some stress off of your plate and involving professionals who can dig deep into the whole picture can make a big difference for both you and your little one.

If you’re local to Ripple Speech Services LLC in Lehigh or Berks counties in PA we are currently accepting new in-person clients! Teletherapy is also available throughout Pennsylvania. You can visit our Contact page and fill out the form or give us a call (610) 282-0567. We can spend a little time talking about your experiences and concerns and set up an evaluation if we both feel that would be a good next step. You don’t have to do this alone!

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