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Picky Eater

Picking Apart the Picky Eater: 5 Tips to Address Your Child’s Problem Feeding

In an era with Whole Foods, Paleo diets, and organic produce at our fingertips, how do we improve a child that is a picky eater? Modern day life can be hectic and as the result feeding may reflect fast, convenient options that taste good but are not always the most nutrient-dense. So, how does one correct picky eating to support a more balanced diet?

5 Tips to Address a Picky Eater

  1. Re-create expectations around feeding. Eating does not just have to be about pleasure, it can be about sustenance, nutrition, and a time for social interaction/community. To frame feeding in terms of just for pleasure, we overemphasize the role of taste in our feeding practices; if it doesn’t taste goodPicky Eater or initiate our pleasure receptors, we shouldn’t eat it. Really, we eat for a variety of reasons and taste can be one of them. If we re-create our expectations to encompass eating for nutrition, sustenance, as well as taste it can become easier for your child to engage with non-preferred, more healthful foods.
  2. Motivate compliant behaviors through incentives. Feeding is a behavior just like any other so if you want to target increased compliance with eating certain foods, provide incentives to encourage the desired behavior. For example, if your child refuses to eat vegetables with dinner, create a log that tracks compliance with trying at least 3 bites of the non-preferred food. Upon completion of the bites, the child can get a sticker, equating with a long-term prize at the end of the week for compliant behaviors or result in shorter-term gratification which can look like being served dessert. Identify what may motivate your child the most to get through challenging tasks and work with this to create investment towards a new mode of eating. The 3-bite rule can help the child also determine if this is truly a food they like or not as they engage with it more.
  3. Debunk negative thinking. Chances are your child’s refusal of food is due to negative thoughts around how they perceive the food to taste or impact them. For example, if a child fears that a food will make them gag, taste disgusting, or make them sick, it would make sense that they would want nothing to do with these foods. The fact of the matter is, there may be limited to no evidence supporting these interpretations so it is important to challenge or debunk this negative thinking. If the child asserts that they don’t like broccoli, inquire about what they believe will happen to them if they eat it. Will they gag? Will they dislike the taste? Will it make them sick? Likely, they will report they just won’t like the taste. If that is the reality, this is a small problem that they can overcome with practice, perseverance, and supplemental positive thinking. Thinking that broccoli is just “ok” but nothing bad will come as the result can facilitate easier engagement and consumption with the non-preferred food item.
  4. Pair foods together. No one says that a meal will only consist of just preferred or just non-preferred foods so it is important to teach balance This can look like pairing favored foods with non-favored foods to emphasize this point; incorporating chicken nuggets with vegetables or fruit instead of French fries or dipping peanut butter and apples together can make unpleasant foods more pleasurable.
  5. Model. Model. If you want your children to get healthy foods and interact with a balanced plate so do you! Align with your child and demonstrate for them that these foods are good and good for you.




NSPT offers Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)  and Nutrition services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

texture aversion

Help! My Child Has a Texture Aversion

“Just take a bite!” “Just try it!” “One bite and you can eat the rest of your food.”

Does this sound all too familiar to you? Do you recognize this battle during mealtime? Your child may have a food texture aversion.

Signs your child may have a texture aversion:

  • Only accepting a narrow range of food choices
  • Extreme preference for certain brands of food
  • Anxiety when faced with a new food item
  • Inability to eat any foods, including foods regularly chosen within the home, when not at home
  • Preference toward avoiding food, often for an entire day, instead of trying something new
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Frequent gagging when served certain foods
  • Facial grimacing or spitting out foods
  • Vomiting when new food is introduced
  • Refusal of food is not related to a food allergy
  • Prolonged mealtimes

What you can do to help with a texture aversion:

  • Reactions
    • Keep a journal of the types of foods your child eats and his reactions to these specific foods. This list will be extremely helpful for the speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist when taking your child in for a feeding evaluation.
  • Don’t push
    • Don’t reinforce the food aversion. Many parents believe that withholding favorite foods as punishment will force the child to give in, but this will only worsen the problem. Also, promising rewards for trying disliked foods will also reinforce food aversions.
  • Modeling and fun
    • Model the behavior you want to instill in your child by eating a wide variety of foods. Children will often adopt the behaviors they are exposed to. With positive reinforcement your child will reduce stress around new foods. Also, get your child involved in meal preparation. Make playing with new types of food fun. Learn about foods and where they come from. Teach your child how foods help our bodies. Expose your child to new foods or averted foods in a fun, stress-free environment.
  • Evaluation
    • Take your child for a feeding evaluation with a speech and language pathologist or occupational therapist. These professionals will help you determine if further therapy is necessary and can introduce the concept of food chaining to your child.
      • Food chaining is the systematic process of slowly introducing averted or new foods to your child. This should be done with professional guidance.

If you believe your child may have a texture or food aversion consult with a professional feeding therapist. Remember, take the stress out of eating for your child and make eating foods a fun and exciting activity. The goal is to reduce stress for you and your child.