Tricia Finkbeiner, Occupational Therapist, Baulkham Hills NSW
10 February 2018
Do you have a child you would describe as a picky eater? Do mealtimes stress you out? Have you tried everything with no success?
A great source of worry for many parents is whether their picky eater child is healthy and getting enough nutrients in their diet to learn and play effectively. Adding to this stress, is the pressure parents feel to find solutions to this issue and to support their child to eat a wider range of foods and the unhelpful feedback they often receive from others that they just have to set firmer boundaries around eating.
For children with feeding difficulties or those who are picky eaters, eating is not as simple as putting food down on their plate and having them eat it. Eating involves about 32 steps, from being able to be in the same room as food, to tolerating food on the plate, to being able to smell the food, touch the food, pick up the food, and bring it to your mouth, then tasting it, chewing it, and finally swallowing it. Kids can get stuck at any of these steps and often think that they eat with their eyes. They decide once they look at the food that they don’t want it.
Here are four tips to help your child to stick around at mealtime and to reduce the stress at mealtimes for the whole family:
Tip 1: Offer at least 1 food that your child will eat with every meal.
Having one familiar food that they like on their plate will give them a place to start eating. It will allow them to stay calmer when at the table and to eat with the family.
Tip 2: Eat together as a family as often as possible.
Children learn best through imitation. By eating together as a family your children see you try new foods, see how you put food in your mouth, see how you chew, and watch how you use your fork, spoon and knife.
Tip 3: Talk about the food you are eating.
Comment on the colour, texture, and shape of foods. Touch your food and talk about how it feels, what it smells like…whether it is a big, medium or small smell…sweet, sour, bitter etc.
Tip 4: Focus on the food at eating time.
Get rid of the distractions: Turn off the TV, put your phone on silent, leave the iPad in the living room, and don’t answer the phone (it is probably just someone selling you insurance anyway). Talk about your day, talk about the food, and enjoy spending time together at meal times.
Mealtimes can be really stressful, especially if your child is a picky eater. Keep in mind that stress increases the hormones in your body that reduce appetite, making it less likely that your child will eat in a stressful environment. Stress also prompts the fight or flight response to turn on, making it less likely that your child will stay at the table and engage in the meal. Our first goal in improving your child’s eating is therefore to take away the stress of mealtimes and make engaging with food an enjoyable process for everyone.
Want more tips on supporting your picky eater at mealtimes and bringing the fun back to family meals?
Check out the book “How to Get Your Child to Eat But Not too Much” by Ellyn Satter; a great resource for parents of children who are picky eaters.
Contact us at The Talbot Centre to see how our feeding clinic team can assist you and your family
Tricia Finkbeiner is an Occupational Therapist with over 20 years experience assisting families to support their child to develop the skills needed to eat successfully and to create fun for the whole family at mealtimes.
Occupational Therapist, Baulkham Hills NSW
Tricia has over 20 years of experience in paediatric Occupational Therapy, including working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, general hospital populations, private practice, schools, preschools and home based settings. She has also previously been the oral motor skills co-ordinator at a clinic in Boston.