This article discusses how to help an extreme picky eater and how to improve extreme picky eating when you’re just getting started or feeling stuck.
Maybe you’ve been struggling with your child’s extreme picky eating for a long time. You’re feeling stuck, frustrated, and helpless because nothing seems to be working.
Maybe you’re just getting started and are looking for effective tips. You’ve noticed your child rejecting foods they used to love. They’ve become extremely particular about what and where they eat, and they don’t want to eat anything other than carbohydrates and snack foods. This doesn’t seem like a phase or “typical picky eating” to you. You want to get ahead of it before their picky eating becomes too extreme.
Wherever you are, you’re wondering how to help an extreme picky eater.
How to Help an Extreme Picky Eater: 7 Simple Steps
1. Watch what you say
“Picky” might be an okay word to describe the trends you’re noticing with your child’s eating, but it’s not a description we want your child to internalize. If your child comes to learn that they are viewed as picky, it’s more likely that they will continue to demonstrate picky habits.
Instead of using the word picky to describe how they eat, try to empower your child and help them adopt a growth mindset when it comes to their eating.
2. Adjust your expectations
You’re going to be working HARD on helping your extreme picky eater. You will be putting in a lot of thought, effort, and time. That is AMAZING. Your child is lucky to have a parent who wants to make eating easier for them
The thing is, your child is eating the way they do for a reason. Often there is no quick fix. Even when you’re doing everything right it can still take a while for your child to feel comfortable trying new foods.
This is for a few reasons.
First, your child likely has a lot of practice eating the way they do. It can take a while for them to learn that they can comfortably and confidently eat a variety of foods.
Second, average young eaters need around a dozen exposures to a new food before they decide to eat it. Extreme picky eaters might need twice or more exposures before feeling ready to eat. That’s a lot of time and effort on your part!
Be patient and persistent.
Don’t assume that just because something you tried a few times hasn’t worked YET that it won’t work at all.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Ignore that! This is one situation where you want to keep trying.
3. Regularly serve new foods
Regularly serve your child new foods – even if they don’t eat them, even if they never eat them.
Serving your child new foods sends the message that they can eat new foods. It also gives your child the opportunity to try new foods when they are ready.
Ideally the new food can be on your child’s plate along with the rest of their meal. If they are uncomfortable having a new food on their plate, they can move it next to their plate.
4. Build their comfort
Most extremely picky eaters have strong food aversions and anxiety about eating new foods.
We want to breakdown your child’s reservations and instead help them feel empowered and capable when it comes to trying new foods.
Find what motivates and interests your child. It might be cooking, learning about food in books or on TV shows, playing with food, growing a food garden, doing arts and crafts, experimenting, or grocery shopping.
5. Create consistency with mealtimes
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work with extremely picky eaters it’s that they have a lot of anxiety when it comes to meals and anything related to eating. To help make this more comfortable for skeptical eaters, it’s helpful to create consistency with mealtimes.
Think about meal timing and everything that happens before, during, and after meals. Being consistent with meal times allows your child’s appetite to regulate and build so they can come to the table hungry and ready to eat. Being consistent with the mealtime routine helps your child know what to expect. Both can make eating easier and increase success when introducing new foods.
6. Don’t freak out
As a mom, I know how stressful it is when your child won’t eat. The thing is, getting upset about it doesn’t help your child. In fact, it can make eating even harder for them. Kids sense our stress and that’s the last thing we want at the table. Our anxiety feeds theirs. Our stress leads to their stress, and stress suppresses the appetite. That doesn’t make eating easier!
The best thing you can do for your child is help them feel calm, comfortable and confident at mealtimes. That starts with you.
7. Get someone on your side
I know you’re worried and frustrated. It can be confusing, scary, and overwhelming to tackle all of this on your own. Feeding kids is hard enough without extreme pickiness and food aversions. If you’re looking for more support – someone to answer your questions and confirm that you’re on the right track – let’s talk.
Putting it all together
These 7 tips on how to help an extreme picky eater might feel like a lot if you’re just getting started. Instead of trying to tackle them all at once, identify just one area to start before moving on to the next. If you’re looking for more support – someone to answer your questions and confirm that you’re on the right track – let’s talk.