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5 Strategies to Tackle Picky Eating At Home

I’ve learned a lot about my Facebook friends over the past few weeks due to the Stay At Home orders. Things like a list of their unpopular opinions, what kinds of cars they have driven, if their first born child looks like them, something about a Tiger King, and one of the most interesting things- a list of foods that they absolutely will not eat again. Most of these lists didn’t contain anything outrageous, but there were very strong feelings associated with the posts. As adults, while we are able to laugh and poke fun at our friends for never wanting to eat a sloppy Joe again, we forget to give that same grace to kids. Just like we have strong feeling about if pineapple belongs on pizza, kids are developing those same relationships with foods. We build connections with food based on sensory, emotional, or visual components, as well as texture, smell, and taste. We connect those factors to memory, and that memory helps us decide if we are going to eat a food again. We want to make sure that kids are creating positive memories with foods.

Sometimes food refusal is not about the taste of a food, but about the presentation or memory related to the food.

Kids, although sometimes irrational, are just tiny humans trying to navigate through their feelings. It is quite possible that they like a food for one factor, but are refusing it for a variety of others. If you (or a provider) have ruled out your child’s picky eating being due to a lack of skill (a child not demonstrating the ability to chew, bite, or swallow certain foods), then it is time to take a look at building positive experiences through other factors.

Here are 5 easy strategies to tackle picky eating at home.

1. BE PATIENT. Kids sometimes need dozens of exposures to foods before they feel comfortable eating them. Try cutting vegetables in different shapes, presenting food with or without a sauce, and using fun items such as chopsticks during meals. Build on flavors or textures your child already accepts.

2. STAY CALM. Address, ignore, and then redirect negative situations. Understanding the reasoning behind certain behaviors, can help you know how to respond. Sometimes throwing food is communicating that there is something they don't like about the food, and if it is on the floor then they don't have to eat it! Remaining calm and consistent, helps keep the attention on the food and not on the behavior being used as a distraction.

3. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE. Give kids praise for trying something new, requesting more, or helping out in the kitchen. Use positive phrases such as “I like how you are eating your food” and “Great job taking a taste”, as well as offering high fives or cheers (but let's not pull out the circus).

4. TALK ABOUT THE FOOD. We don’t always have to give a child a direct command to take a bite. Describe what the food looks like and what you are doing with it. “These peas are squishy. I’m going to smash them with my teeth!”

5. MAKE EATING AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE! Mealtime should be an enjoyable experience for the whole family. Stress in kids around food can result in negative behaviors. Remember to take it slow, have fun, and reach out for help from a professional when things get overwhelming.

Now is a great time to introduce new foods, try new recipes, and get kids involved in the kitchen. It looks like we are going to be home for a while, so what do you have to lose?

April Anderson, MA, CCC-SLP, CLC

Are you struggling with your picky eater and need more help? Reach out to schedule a (virtual) consultation or to ask specific questions:

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