Quick Tips: Helping Picky Eaters

These creative mealtime tips are provided for the Melissa & Doug blog by Cindy Utzinger, pediatric Occupational Therapist.

Do you have a child who is a picky eater? I do! I have a 5 year old daughter who looks at new food with fear in her eyes. Trying to get her to let something new touch her plate (let alone her lips) makes dinnertime a challenge and a time that requires a lot of patience.

If you have a picky eater living under your roof, you are not alone. There is hope, though, and here are a few tips to help you:

play with food- resized

1.        Let your child play with their food­­­-  Kids need have a good relationship with food. One way for them to do this is through playing with their food. By this I mean to let them blow bubbles in their milk, make pictures with their pasta, make a person using their veggies and meat, hide veggies in their mashed potatoes, and so on and so on. Melissa & Doug have some great toys for picky eaters which allow kids to start developing a good relationship with food through play (such as the Make-aMeal Sticker Pad, Wooden Play Food, and Felt Play Food Sandwich Set).

2.       Have a “Try” bowl- This may sound crazy but I promise it works (and takes a lot of stress out of dinner time). Do you beg your child to “just try it”? To us it sounds so easy but to them it may seem like a life threatening request. Did you know that it can take up to 88 exposures to food before a child will feel comfortable enough to try it? try bowl

We have to redefine “try”.  So, try this.: put a bowl on your table labeled with the word “Try”; putting the food from their plate in to the bowl counts as a try.  Other things that count as a “try” are licking the food, allowing it to remain on their plate, kissing it, smelling it, touching it, playing with it, etc.  “Trying” food no longer has to mean that it crosses their lips and goes in to their tummies.  Have your child “try” one new food at a time and don’t forget that repetitive exposure and learning to trust food is the trick.

3.       Food chaining- Is your goal to get your child to eat yogurt with fruit bits but they will currently only eat yogurt that is nothing more than sugar in a cup? To food chain can look something like this:

  • Work on getting them to eat a different brand of yogurt but same flavor.
  • Then, work on getting them to eat a different flavor and different brand.
  • Next, introduce the “goal” yogurt by letting them dip graham crackers in it.
  • Finally, give them a spoon and let them dig in.

This process can be used with any food and may take a while, but stick with it!

4.       Make meal time a social event- Light the candles, pull out the table cloth, play mood music, and serve dinner family style allowing your child to help dish themselves up. All of this can help make dinner time much more enjoyable to your child (meaning less stressful to you!).

What are your secrets for helping picky eaters try new foods? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

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Cindy Utzinger is a pediatric Occupational Therapist, handwriting tutor, and founder of Building Write Foundations LLC. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two young children (a son and a daughter).  In her free time she can be found running through the streets of her neighborhood to get some exercise or enjoying time on the lake with family and friends. Through her website (www.cindyutzinger.com) she provides parents, teachers, and caregivers with information regarding the importance of building each and every child’s sensory foundation and provides ways to help build their sensory foundation and their foundation for learning. Through her website she also blogs and tackles issues dealing with handwriting problems, ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and diagnoses on the autism spectrum.

You can follow Cindy on Facebook, Twitter and her blog!

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  1. Hi Cindy – as a parent of a picky eater, these are great. I especially love the “Food Chaining” ideas you use for yogurt. Speaking of yogurt, another tip you might suggest is to have parents explore trying probiotics – as there is mounting evidence that picky eating can be correlated (even caused?) by kids having out-of-whack gut bacteria.

    Here’s an article we’ve recently published with a bit of an overview. Would love your thoughts.