1. Explore Food away from Meals: Use food for other purposes than eating to increase the child’s exposure to the food in fun, interactive ways. For example, learning to match colors with orange carrots & red bell peppers gets those nutritious foods in your child’s hands and that’s a safe, fun place to start! Here’s a video demonstrating that process.
2. Teach Kids to Sit at the Table: Tackle one change in behavior at a time. So many of the parents that bring their kids to feeding therapy report feeling overwhelmed by their child’s rigid behaviors around food and just don’t know where to begin. Learning to enjoy family mealtimes sometimes starts with a child learning to sit at the table or tolerating the presence of a new food on their plate. Biting, chewing and swallowing come much later.
3. Find Out What Their Friends’ Eat: Ask kids what foods they see at their friends’ homes that they would like to try to make with you. It’s not about eating – it’s about the sensory experience of cooking together as we learn about new foods with our eyes, ears (yes, every food has a sound), nose, fingers, hands and more! Remember, it’s about creating a new dish and being together in the process.
4. Use Family Style Serving: A terrific way to repeatedly expose your child to new foods is to serve all foods family style. Everyone at the table dishes up at least one spoonful of food from each serving bowl. If the bowls are small enough, teach younger family members to pass in one direction, stopping to take a serving for their own plate. If the serving platters are larger, have an adult hold the dish while children dish up a spoonful onto their plate. Better yet, let the most hesitant eater be in charge of dishing up everyone’s plates, so that he/she gets the most exposure to a new food as each plate is prepared. Learning to be comfortable in the presence of the food is an early step to tasting new foods.
5. Mark the Beginning of the Meal: Begin each meal with the same routine, such as a prayer, setting the table together or a hand washing song before coming to the table. Kids thrive on predictability and daily routines help to keep anxiety levels low.
6. Mark the End of the Meal: When a meal is done, it’s done. While kids under the age of 3 or those with attention challenges may not be able to stay at the table till everyone is finished, they can still take their plate up to the kitchen counter when they are done eating. For older kids, they can learn to stay at the table till everyone in the family is finished and then the table is cleared together. Remember, the end of the meal may not always coincide with empty plates. Ending a meal with a prayer or a song keeps the focus on family instead of the empty plate club.
7. Seek Support: Don’t wait to have a child evaluated by an experienced feeding therapist, even if others say “all kids are picky.” If you’re having trouble with any of the suggestions noted above, an experienced therapist who understands children’s behavior as well as their sensory and motor skills will be able to guide both parent and child. Catching feeding challenges early is the key to avoiding years of stress and frustration for both your child and your family.
About the Author
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist, a national speaker on the topic of picky eating, and the author of the award winning parenting book, Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food! With over 15 years’ experience treating children with feeding difficulties, 75% of Melanie’s clients have ASD, anxiety and/or sensory challenges. Mel’s approach to developing feeding skills includes the fundamentals of parenting in the kitchen, such as how to avoid mealtime debates and create more joyful mealtimes, even with a hesitant eater. She has also produced the award winning children’s CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food as a tool to keep mealtimes joyful and family centered. Connect with Melanie at My Munch Bug on Facebook and Twitter or email her at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.