Monday, January 12, 2009

Practical Help for Picky Eaters: Part II

Food needs to be fun. If your child is a picky eater, he/she already has associated food with something negative. In order for you to help your child get out of the "eating rut", that negative association needs to change. Your picky eater needs to begin associating food and eating with something positive.

The only way to change his/her behavior is to back up a bit and allow your picky eater to just have fun with food. I'm not talking about loading them up with junk food or playing at the table during mealtimes. I'm talking about just getting food to be fun first without any pressure to eat it. What does that mean and how does that happen? Here are some suggestions:

1. Allow your picky eater to play with food. Again, I'm not talking about mealtimes. I'm talking about playing with food and in food for just the purposes of playing. Let me give you some examples:

  • Let your picky eater finger paint with pudding, applesauce, or some flavored yogurt.

  • Allow them to dig, scoop, and pour with "dirt" (a chocolate cake). Give them an unfrosted chocolate cake, some gummy worms, licorice, maybe some chocolate syrup. Allow them to plant flowers, make homes for worms, make a volcano....or whatever they feel like doing.

  • Drive cars through a plate of frosting. Let their imagination guide them. If they want to build a road, make cement, design a city, by all means let them.

  • Make a sugar cone into a Christmas tree by turning it upside down, covering it with green frosting, and putting mini M&Ms on it as the ornaments.

Any food that is in a semi-liquid state is a good choice. The foods in the aforementioned examples are just a few in this category, but there are many, many more options. Just remember, this is play. Do not direct them; instead, simply come along side them and play with them.

It will be insightful to see what they will touch and won't, what they may end up tasting during the process, and how they react to the taste, sight, and smell. The whole goal is to have a fun experience with food but without any and all pressure to eat it. If they chose to taste something, great; but do not ask them to eat or try anything.

2. Cook and bake with your child. Have you child in the kitchen with you at least once a week. Make cookies together. Bake a cake. Make different kinds of muffins. My children are in the kitchen so often that they are making items from scratch, but you need to begin simply.

Ask them what they would like to make. Maybe even ask them while you are in the baking aisle at your local grocery store where the boxed items (i.e., muffins, brownies, cake) are right in front of you. The whole idea is baking or cooking with them; it doesn't matter what you are baking or cooking, but an item that they choose will make the experience more fun for them when they are in the kitchen.

3. Visit local farmer's markets. During the height of my son's picky eating, we were visiting farmer's markets every Saturday morning. We walked the entire market each week looking at different foods, touching things that were on display, smelling fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and having our picky eater helping bag foods for us to buy and bring home. We ate non-threatening foods that were available: kettle korn, smoothies, icys, ice cream. The whole experience was fun and exposed our son to a variety of foods without him every realizing that we were there for a positive food experience, not the actual produce.

4. Allow your child to choose the dinner meal for the entire family. Be prepared for any answer and go with it, even if it would not be your choice for a dinner. Have them help prepare your shopping list as well grocery shop for the foods involved in the meal. Is this something they can even help you prepare?

5. Allow your picky eater to grocery shop with you. When my children were younger, just the thought of taking all the them, together, to the grocery store would provoke actual pain in my body. If that is the same for you, take just your picky eater with you if possible. Show your picky eater how to pick out fresh, good-looking fruits and vegetables and have him/her help bag some for you.

6. Visit U Pick Fruit Farms. In our area, we have farms where you can to pick your own strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, and peaches. I'm sure if I did some more research, I could find other U Pick Farms as well, but these are the ones we frequent. Each year when the fruit is in season, we make at least one trip to each of these farms. It's a fun family activity that involves food without any pressure for our picky eater to eat anything. Most of our family members can't help themselves and we are eating the fruit the entire time we are picking it, but it's not a requirement.

Depending on how long you stay and how much produce your family picks, this also gives you the opportunity to make a variety of food items with this one ingredient. Right after a trip to the U Pick Strawberry Farm, it's time to for Strawberry Pie, Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry Smoothies, or simply strawberries on ice cream, don't you agree??


If this list of suggestions seems long and overwhelming, I'm here to tell you it is...if you try to do them all at once. When we were in the beginning stages of feeding therapy, we started with a single item on this list and tried to incorporate it into our lifestyle. The following week, we added another. When we decided those two things really didn't alter our lifestyle too drastically, we added another.

All of these suggestions will help your picky eater, but don't feel like you need to start by doing all of them. Go at your own pace so you don't overwhelm yourself or your children. At the same time remember, the more positive experiences your picky eater has, the faster his/her eating is going to change.


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