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  • Lisa Cooseman, OTR/L, MS

Food Wars: Tips for Your Picky Eater

Do mealtimes tend to feel more like a war for you as a parent? You might find yourself anticipating the crying, gagging, and battling that occurs so frequently around meals. You may even find yourself avoiding the battle and serving things that will yield a more peaceful dinner time.

Eating is actually a very complex activity and is rich with sensory experiences. When the food is on the plate in front of our child, he is required to process and interpret the smell (olfactory), how it looks (visual), how it feels in his hand or mouth (tactile), getting the food to his mouth (coordination/ fine motor), maintaining a seated position (vestibular/ proprioception), biting/chewing (proprioception/ motor planning), and then swallowing the food (oral motor strength/ coordination). Whew!!

For children with sensory processing deficits, this can be too stressful to even begin. They may stick with foods that are familiar to them. When kids get “stuck” on certain foods, this is called a food jag. One of the problems with food jags is that kids eventually get bored, and the variety of foods they eat continues to get more and more restricted. It is important to avoid these food jags, but in doing so it can be easy to make mistakes that can further restrict a child’s diet. Here are some tips to try at home to make mealtime a more positive experience:

Be creative

  • Use condiments to allow kids to dip their food.

  • Cut sandwiches, deli meat, and cheese with cookie cutters.

  • Try different intensities with food such as sour or spicy.

  • Let kids decide about how to combine the food. For example, pepperoni wrapped around a goldfish cracker becomes a “Fish taco”

Play, play, play

  • Kiss the food.

  • Get messy with the food — it is how they will learn and gain comfort with food.

  • Pretend play — make cars out of carrot sticks, use pretzel rods dipped in peanut butter as drumsticks.

  • “Food rockets” — Allow kids to take a bite of something non-preferred and spit it out in the trash or bowl. This may go against every fiber of your being, but give it a try. You may have fun!

  • Pair non-preferred foods with preferred.

  • Allowing your child to eat something that they like directly after they try something can help make that a more positive experience.

Be a good model

  • Eat the foods you are expecting your child to eat.

  • Avoid talking about how food tastes in a negative manner.

Explore the food

  • Talk about what the food looks like, feels like, how you could change it.

  • Using language that encourages kids to explore “I wonder what would happen if we open up this snap pea.”

Dealing with a picky eater can be frustrating for the whole family and we'd love to help you find success in this area! If you would like to learn more about feeding therapy at Leaps and Bounds, please call the office at 636-928-LEAP(5327) or click the link below to get started!


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