Do you have a picky eater in your family? Specialists from Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Children’s Feeding Program are sharing their tips for helping children overcome picky eating and develop healthier eating habits. Carol Elliott, Occupational Therapist, Brandi Watts, Speech Therapist, and Tamara Neiderer, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, regularly encounter these issues at the Feeding Program, and suggest a few ways to get your picky eater enjoying every bite:
- Set an example by serving new foods to the entire family. Encourage tasting a bite and, if rejected, wait and try another time. Often 10 or more tries are needed for a child to become willing to accept a new food.
- Serve at least one food your child likes as part of the family meal. The rest of the meal should include what is being served to the entire family.
- Serve kid-size portions. Large servings can be intimidating. Offer portions that are approximately one-fourth the size of an adult’s portion.
- Praise children for good eating practices rather than fighting over what they will and won’t eat. Fighting creates negative feelings about eating, which can lead to even more pickiness.
- Stay calm. Refusing to eat is a way of getting attention; making a scene only encourages this behavior. If children learn they can push your buttons by rejecting foods, mealtime will turn into a battle.
- Don’t pass your own food hang-ups on to your kids. Be careful how you talk about foods and keep your preferences to yourself.
- Try to feed your child only when he or she is sitting at the table or in a high chair. Stand-up eaters can become all-day snackers who are picky at mealtime because they are not hungry. To ensure children are hungry for a meal, make sure they haven’t filled up on too many snacks or drinks.
Dealing with a difficult eater can be draining. Structure, support and small changes can have a big impact on the mealtime experience, with everyone being happier at the table. However, if you child is experiencing any of the following growth, food selectivity or eating/swallowing issues, talk with your doctor:
- Child has poor weight gain and eats only small amounts of preferred foods.
- Child will only eat certain brands.
- Child is not eating age-appropriate textures.
- Child refuses to participate in social activities involving food.
- Child gags or vomits when presented with a new food.
- Child becomes highly anxious or has tantrums when tasting new foods including foods that children typically prefer such as candy, cookies and treats.
- Child lacks nutrition from more than two of the major food groups: meat/protein, dairy, grains, fruits, vegetables and fat.