This article discusses 6 simple things you can do to make feeding an extreme picky eater easier and to help them try new foods.
Is your child stuck eating a small number of foods? Are you packing food for them every time you leave the house and worried they will never learn to eat vegetables or pasta that isn’t covered in orange powdered cheese?
You’re not alone.
I’ve worked with children like this and their parents for years.
It can be heartbreaking to see your child struggle to eat and miss out on fully participating in celebrations like birthday parties and holiday meals.
Though it’s common to feel stuck and like you’ve tried every possible thing to get your extremely picky eater to eat something new, with the right strategy even the most picky eaters can expand the number of foods they eat and learn to comfortably try new foods.
The key is to empower both yourself and your child while eliminating stress and pressure, so eating can feel more fun and comfortable.
Here is a list of important do’s and don’ts to help your extremely picky eater learn to comfortably try new foods.
6 Simple Dos and Don’ts to Help Your Extreme Picky Eater
Don’t blame yourself.
As guilty as you feel about your child’s struggles to eat, it’s important that you know that it’s not your fault. Most extreme picky eating cannot be explained by parenting.
For some kids who struggle to eat, it’s easy to create a direct line between their eating and another experience or condition. Maybe they experienced reflux or constipation, or maybe they have sensory processing issues. Yet others don’t have a clear explanation. They are born having a more difficult time.
The bottom line is that nothing that you did or didn’t do impacted your child’s ability to eat.
Do make sure your child comes to the table hungry.
Appetite plays a big role when a child is considering a new food and it’s your job as a parent to not only feed your child when they’re hungry, but also to optimize their appetite for mealtimes.
Most of the parents I work with are so worried about their child eating – not only new foods but anything at all – that they over-offer meals and snacks throughout the day. This leads to poor appetite at mealtimes.
Aim to stick to a mealtime schedule so your child shows up to meals and snacks hungry.
Don’t require tastes or bites!
As tempting as it is to ask your child to just take a tiny taste, resist requiring them to have any interaction with food. It feels small and harmless from our end. And it comes from a good place – you want what’s best for your child and you have a hunch that if they would only try that new food, they’d probably like it!
Most extremely picky eaters have anxiety when it comes to tasting and interacting with new foods. Asking them to do something outside of their comfort zone can exacerbate their aversions.
Try these alternatives to requiring an extremely picky eater to take tastes or bites.
Do establish mealtime routines.
Routines like eating meals around the same time every day not only help to build and regulate your child’s appetite. Routines can also decrease the anxiety that many picky eaters have at mealtimes and can help bring fun into what is sometimes a stressful experience for the whole family.
Find routines that work for you. I recommend eating meals in the same location. Beyond that, make mealtime routines work for you. Maybe you provide a warning before meals or your child has a special mealtime job like setting the table, helping out in the kitchen, or serving part of the meal.
Routines that include involvement with food can also increase your child’s interest in eating.
Don’t give up on a new food!
One of the biggest mistakes the families I work with make is not giving their child enough time to learn to like a new food.
When introducing new foods, try over and over and over again.
Why? Studies suggest typical kids need to meet a new food 8 to 15 times before eating it. In my experience, kids who struggle to eat might need three times as many encounters with a new food.
Yet parents typically stop offering a food after only 1 to 5 times before deciding their child doesn’t like it.
As I say to the families I work with, be patient and persistent. Your child can learn to like new foods. But it takes time!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You may need extra help from a professional to help your extremely picky eater move beyond their limited eating choices. How can you tell if you should seek help with your child’s eating? Here are some signs it might be time to seek support:
- You’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to do next
- You feel like you’ve tried everything to help your child try new foods
- Mealtimes are miserable for you and your child
- You feel like your child’s eating is regressing or you can’t remember the last time they tried a new food
If you’re ready for support, book a call with me to discuss your options and how I can help.