Sensory Issue One: Picky Eating
(Scroll down for tips on video)
Tip # 1: Start with play
As adults, we can become quite desensitized to the various textures, flavors, and smells of different foods, but many of our kids have not. It can be difficult when your child doesn’t want to eat what you make or has a significantly limited diet. Research indicates that playing with food can help young children overcome the fear of new flavors and eat a more varied diet.
To attempt getting your child to eat something new, try playing with foods to which your child may be hesitant or resistant. Being able to touch or play with an unfamiliar food is a great step in the right direction when the ultimate goal is to get that food into your child’s mouth! Some ideas include using straw to blow pieces of popcorn or peas across the table, rolling green beans across the table, stacking pretzel sticks to build a wall, or making a “mystery” bag for your child to reach into and feel different foods and have her try to guess what it is she is feeling.
Tip # 2: Use motivating rewards, such as a special treat, once the child has been successful
Creating a motivating and fun experience can be an effective way to encourage kids to try new foods. Don’t expect too much at first, you may want to have your child just touch a food to earn a reward or praise, progressing to giving the food a kiss with his/her lips, and then progress to licking the food. Finally, encourage your child to take a small bite! You could offer things that your child finds special or motivating, such as a sticker, an extra story at bedtime, a few extra minutes on the iPad, or a small toy.
Tip # 3: Use fun plates/utensils
Make meal-time fun and exciting by using kid-friendly plates and utensils to motivate your child! Using anything other than a typical kitchen plate makes eating a unique and fun experience for your child! Try using toy dishes and utensils, piercing food with a toothpick, eating out of an ice cube tray or a muffin tin, or a plate decorated with your child’s current favorite TV or movie character. Try taking your child to the store and allowing him/her choose a fun dish!
– Introduce a food at least 15-20 times, having food present on the table and then on the plate
Patience, understanding that it takes time to warm up to certain foods, repeated exposures, role modeling, enhancing flavor, and varied presentation methods can get your child on the path to eating a wider variety of foods, eventually!
– Celebrate little successes, including touching, playing with, or barely tasting new foods!
Celebrate the small steps! The goal is to get your child comfortable around new foods, so praising him for every positive interaction with that food is a victory! Your child touched a green bean for the first time? Let him know that you are proud of him! Clap, tell him “great job,” or any other praise to let him know he’s doing great! Children love to please, so knowing that you are proud of him goes a long way in motivating him to try more foods!
Written by: Amy Elgin, MSOL, OTR/L, BCP