Tips From A Feeding Therapist for Picky Eaters

Tips for Picky Eaters

I was recently interviewed on a podcast and mentioned in passing how Amalia (6) is a very picky eater. Luckily for me, a professional in this department heard the podcast and reached out to see if she could help! I had a great call with Liz from The Feeding Academy and have since been putting her tips into practice at home. She was so helpful that I asked if she would share some of her top tips for you guys as well!

The best part about Liz’s consultations is that they are individualized. I let her know that Amalia struggles with change so she worked with me on figuring out small changes that we could make that end up in big results. This was a total shift for me. I thought I was going to have to overhaul our mealtimes, but she guided me on the little changes I can make in routine and changing specific foods (i.e. a simple shift in the type of bread) and how that can propel us to bigger changes in Amalia’s eating.

Amalia doesn’t love when I put new foods on her plate, so Liz introduced the “learning plate”, which is a no pressure plate at the table. At mealtimes, if Amalia won’t allow the new food on her personal plate, we can put a small piece of the new food on the learning plate. She can then learn about it with us and choose to play with it or explore the food, but without the added pressure of it potentially touching one of her safe foods.

She said it’s different from a “no-thank you” bowl, which she doesn’t recommend because the name in itself closes the door to learning and exploration. Liz said that even if Amalia only looks at the food on the “learning plate” that it’s a win because that’s an exposure and one more step up the ladder to getting her to eventually taste the food.

Liz Kirkpatrick is a licensed and nationally certified pediatric speech language pathologist that specializes in feeding. Her goal is to support parents in the highs and lows of feeding children from baby to toddler to big kid. Liz offers virtual consultations with caregivers to individualize a plan to support families in starting solids, managing picky eating and beyond.

Take it away, Liz:

1. Take the pressure off: Gone are the days of, “Eat two bites of broccoli and then you can have ice cream.” Pressure can actually lead to a child becoming more picky. When this type of pressure exists, your child may start to put desserts on a pedestal. Then, they want the desserts more and become less interested in the other more nutritious options on their plate. There is a place for all foods in our diet and we want them to be on an equal playing field.

2. Involve your child in the process: While cooking with children isn’t the most relaxing of activities, it’s an amazing opportunity to engage them in new foods without the pressure of mealtime. My number one tip for cooking with kids is preparing the ingredients ahead of time. Trouble tends to happen when they’re left to their own devices as you run to grab the next ingredient! Let your child pour, chop, mix, mash and stir. They will feel so proud that they were a part of creating the meal, that they may be more willing to try it.

3. Leave your manners at the door, PLAY with your food! Manners can be worked on later. We want to focus on positive experiences with food. Children learn through play. Children also have to learn how to eat new foods. Why would we take away the key element of learning at the dinner table? Paint with your broccoli, turn your asparagus into a brontosaurus, turn hummus into a volcano. If you’re having fun and modeling this type of play at the table, your child will be more willing to imitate.

4. Serve meals family style: Children want to feel in control. They don’t have control over what’s served at mealtimes, so we’re going to find ways to give them back that control. This can happen by serving the meal family style. Don’t let this intimidate you and make you think you have to bring out the serving ware from your wedding. Serve it in the pan you cooked it in or put it in the tupperware you will store the leftovers in. Do whatever is easiest! This also allows them to decide how much of something they want on their plate. Maybe they just want one green bean because that doesn’t feel overwhelming to them and therefore may be more willing to try it.

5. Don’t give up if your child refuses a food the first time: The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again,” goes for foods we offer our children. Just because they don’t like broccoli or refuse to try it the first time it’s offered, doesn’t mean they won’t eat it the 7th time it’s offered. Try cooking it differently, seasoning it with favorite flavors, offering a favorite dip, incorporating it into other favorite foods (no hiding it, make sure to tell them it’s in there or how else will they learn to like it?!). So don’t give up and keep on offering in a variety of ways.