When my daughter who has sensory processing disorder was little, I knew I was doing a lot of things right as a parent. Our days were filled with obstacle courses built out of couch cushions, tactile play in sensory bins, playgroups to encourage social skill development, and lots and lots of books. My hard work was paying off! I got to see her achieve new milestones every day and the Occupational Therapist (OT) in me knew we were on the right track. Then we would sit down to eat dinner as a family and I was at a loss at to what do do for my picky eater.
Suddenly I felt like the biggest failure of a parent who ever walked the planet. What kind of a parent was I if I couldn’t even get my child to eat kid-friendly foods like pizza and hot dogs? How could she survive on peanut butter alone?!
I am happy to report that she DID survive and is now a thriving teenager. As an OT and as a parent who has experienced that feeling of failure in getting my child to eat, I would love to pass on some words of advice and encouragement to parents who are in the midst of that battle.
3 Picky Eater Tips – An OT Perspective
Prepare the Whole Body of the Picky Eater Before Going to the Table
If your child is stressed and anxious, try letting him spend time with a favorite quiet toy in a cozy corner or a little fort. If your child is “bouncing off the walls,” let him get that energy out through outdoor play or a living room obstacle course.
Prepare the Dining Area for the Picky Eater
Consider eating by candlelight, having soft piano music playing in the background, allowing your child to sit on a therapy ball instead of a chair, or serving the meal picnic-style on a blanket in the middle of the living room. Remember that mealtime success begins with a relaxed and happy child. Ask your OT about adaptations that might be the most helpful for your child.
Present, Present, Present and Never Stop Presenting to the Picky Eater!
Research indicates that even typically developing kids often require up to 20 presentations of a new food before voluntarily picking it up and putting the food in their mouths. Kids with sensory issues may require 120 (or more!) presentations of a new food while they get used to the smell of it, the sight of it, and the feel of it in their hands before they are going to be willing to taste it. Even if you have no expectation of your child eating the food, at least put a bite or two on their plate and encourage them to smell it, feel it, play with it, touch it, or lick it. Any form of interaction is progress!
3 Picky Eater Tips – A Parent Perspective
Don’t Be Afraid to Cater Just a Little Bit to Your Picky Eater
Don’t be afraid to cater just a little bit (without letting your child know you are catering to him!). I spent way too long listening to well-meaning professionals telling me that she would never voluntarily starve herself. I am here to tell you she would have gladly died rather than eating some of things I wanted her to eat! Even now, I make sure there is one preferred food at every meal so she will be sure to get the calories she needs. I’m not suggesting that you become a short-order cook; rather that you just make sure there is at least one thing your child will eat at every meal.
Don’t Let Other Parents Make You Feel Guilty about Your Picky Eater
Instead, educate them about the struggles your sensational child goes through. Most other parents are compassionate once they know the facts.
Remember that Family Meals are about Way More than the Food
Family mealtimes are about connecting, laughing, and relaxing together. Make that the primary objective of mealtime. If you’re worried about your child going to bed hungry, hang a list of “Anytime Foods” on the fridge and allow him or her to fill up on those for a night-time snack (our list consists of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds).
If you are worried about growth and nutrition, check with your child’s doctor and ask about a referral to an OT or Speech/Language Pathologist who treats kids with feeding issues. Let us help you!
And last but not least, remember to enjoy your sensational child!
Delve Deeper into Picky Eating with Informative Webinars!
Pediatric feeding is a very complex specialty as it involves diverse areas of practice and requires high levels of caregiver training. As a practitioner it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder where to start or go next. This 2-hour webinar presents the Whole Pie Framework™ for pediatric feeding, which describes the 8 major areas impacting success with eating. After completing this webinar you will know where to start with each new feeding client and gain strategies to increase daily caloric intake while decreasing stress during meals.
Do you have clients on the white diet of milk, yogurt, bread, cheese, and crackers? How do you progress them to more complex textures like meat or spaghetti with sauce without scaring them? The answer is with effective food progression broken down into manageable steps. This 2-hour webinar teaches strategies to develop food progressions, receive handouts, and practice developing food progressions to help children eat common foods.