Have a Picky Eater? Here are 6 Tricks and Tips to Encourage Joyful Mealtimes
1. Hands or Eating Utensils? If you’re concerned about picky eating, allow your child to eat independently with either their hands or utensils. If your kiddo is 18+ months and older, ask their permission to help with feeding and pay attention to subtle cues that let you know if your child is ready to accept that support. Kids might get messy, but that's okay!
2. Take the pressure off! Do you hear yourself saying to your kiddo: "Just try it!", "Have a bite", "It tastes good, you can do it!" Although well intended, this positive pressure may backfire, and discourage your child from eating what's on their plate. Encourage your child to do what they CAN do, such as smelling, licking, biting and spitting out, and recognize that as a success!
3. Portion size is smaller than you think! Did you know that the recommended serving size for a child is 1 tablespoon per every year of age? A seven year old should be eating 7 tablespoons of food while your 4 year old only needs to eat 4 tablespoons of food per meal. Let me know how they did!
4. Does your child resist chewing? Try setting them up in front of the mirror! They can see their face and visually engage with food, toys, and utensils from a new perspective. Exaggerate your tongue and mouth movements while munching, chewing, or saying "AHHH" to elicit new oral motor movement through imitation.
5. Play with your food! If your child is a picky eater she’s built up negative associations with food. Reverse that by making food playful! Bead a pasta necklace, play pictionary using a nut butter, jelly, or hummus, or pretend you're a space invader on a "flying saucer" (i.e. cracker, cookie, bread). Orchestrate music by drumming on food containers or shaking a storage container of cereal. Let your child chop, peel, cut, or crush food and make a picture out of the pieces. It's important that eating is associated with the kitchen table so be sure to find a separate space for food play.
6. Ease the transition to mealtime. Engage your child in calming activities such as animal walks, swinging, blowing bubbles or other heavy work to organize their body prior to sitting at the table. For kiddos with tactile sensitivity, playing in a sensory bin, washing hands, spraying water on the table, and wringing out a washcloth with both hands and scrubbing the table are activities that desensitize the hands so food doesn’t feel yucky.
Let us know which strategies are working best for you!