Ahh picky eaters. At my private practice, I get a lot of questions about food choices and how to get kids to eat more options. No matter what type of foods the child won’t eat, I always recommend the same steps for parents.
It is important to note that this is a basic overview in how to deal with food aversion and picky eaters. If your child is exhibiting issues with eating, I highly suggest you seek therapy from a speech language pathologist. Also, not all speech pathologists deal with food therapy, so you’ll need to do some research and ask anyone you contact!
Between 20% to 50% of kids are described by their parents as picky eaters. One day your child may love eating bananas and the next day they are gagging and spitting them out of their mouth. You are not alone. The key item is to understand when these behaviors are just your child showing food likes/dislikes and heading towards a food aversion.
So what are the key signs of a food aversion? These signs might range in severity and may not appear in every child.
Some of you might be reading this and thinking, “yeah my kids do that every night so now what?” The first thing I’d suggest is to approach foods the same way a therapist would in therapy. There are certain steps that must be followed in order to decrease food sensitivities. When attempting to incorporate a new food into your child’s diet, complete the following steps IN ORDER.
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Listen, kids will eat when they are hungry. There’s no point in stressing you or your kids out by trying to force food down their throats. As long as they are gaining weight and growing, they are getting enough nutrition. You may need to give different vitamins, but that’s a question for your pediatrician.
As a parent, you have responsibilities for feeding your child. Your child also has responsibilities.
Your child should select from a variety of foods at mealtime like a vegetable, fruit, protein and starch. The family menu should not be limited to the child’s favorite foods. Children may have to be offered food up to 15 times before they will try it.
Your child may not eat the foods you provide if he or she is drinking too many calories from juice, soda or milk. If your child drinks too much, he or she can become full and eat poorly at mealtimes. Limit your child to 4 ounces of juice and 24 ounces of milk a day. Soda is not recommended for children because it has no nutritional benefit. For more information regarding this topic, check with your child’s pediatrician.
Both snacks and meals are important for growing children to meet their nutrition needs. Having a set schedule of breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and bedtime snack helps children know that there is a meal coming every two to three hours and that they will not go hungry. Avoid giving your child food between the scheduled times.
If your child chooses to skip a meal or a snack, he or she can wait until the next scheduled time in a couple of hours. If your child refuses to eat, have him or her sit at the table until the majority of the family is finished eating, within reason. We do this with our daughter, who is three!
The mealtime environment should always be considered when feeding a child. Conversation should be pleasant, the eating space should be clean and bright and distractions should be limited. Mealtime is not a time for watching television or arguing. We don’t allow our kids to watch tv while eating unless it’s a special occasion!
Everyone has his or her own quirks about eating. Children may eat a sandwich cut into triangles without crusts, but would not eat the same sandwich cut into squares with the crusts. A child may eat small pieces of broccoli, but avoid the stems. Foods that your child eats today may not be eaten tomorrow. It is important to realize that your child may react differently to the same foods on different days. It is not necessary to offer a substitute food.
As a mom, I get this one can be hard. BUT, If your child doesn’t like or doesn’t seem to be eating the foods that you have prepared for a meal or snack, it’s okay. Avoid the temptation to return to the stove and cook foods that you know your child will eat. If your child refuses a meal or snack, there will be another one in a few hours and he or she should be able to wait until then. When children are hungry because they chose not to eat, they’ll be more likely to eat what is offered next time.
Dessert does not need to be offered with every meal or even every day. When dessert is available, consider the following ideas:
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