Is your child a picky eater? Do you struggle with ideas on what to feed your toddler? Are you tired of battling at the dinner table with your child to just eat a meal?
How can you tell if your child is a fussy or problem eater? Paediatric dietitian Jessica Crandall, RDN, suggests that “eating fewer than 10 foods and really struggling to try new foods is beyond being picky and a red flag for a problem eater."
Some children have sensory issues with food and this can become challenging to encourage your child to try new foods and to eat from a range of foods. Problem feeders are children who may be hyper or hypo sensitive with food.
A great place to start learning about your child’s food behavior is to keep a food diary for the week and list the foods your child eats. Then sort these foods into the following categories:
You will gain a valuable insight into how to address your child’s food aversions and ideas to increase their variety of food whilst keeping them happy with the choices.
Have you noticed that your child will only eat a certain color of foods? Perhaps they only like white foods - potatoes, chicken, fish, bread, pasta or popcorn. Does your child refuse a certain color of food, and no matter what you, do they simply will not eat it, like orange food? The chances of you getting them to let that carrot, pumpkin or sweet potato past their lips is not very high.
Have you thought that sometimes your child’s food dislikes maybe due to the texture of food? Oral defensiveness is easy to miss – so watch closely! Apples, celery, potato crisps, and raw veggies give a great stimulus to those sensory seekers that will only eat crisp and crunchy foods. If this is your child, maybe they don't like the feel of soft foods in their mouth or when they gag on food? Another type of textured food is the soft and smooth feel that younger children often prefer. Yogurts, mashed banana, sauces and pasta may be their favorite foods. These types of food do not require much effort to eat and your child may avoid foods with lumps in them.
Children who are more hypo sensitive tend to enjoy foods which are stimulatory. They may prefer to eat spicy foods with hot sauces, chilies, spicy chicken wings, food with pepper. Salty tastes include crackers, pretzels, anchovies and salted chips. These foods that give a zing to your taste buds are beneficial to your child because they help to stimulate the brain and give a response to their sensory system.
Bland foods are often a favorite with young sensory eaters – there is nothing too demanding or challenging with these types of foods. You may notice that most bland foods also fit into the white color category. Custards, mashed potato, plain pasta, steamed chicken breasts, and french fries. Remember plain food eaters may not like any condiments - ketchup, barbecue sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, salt, pepper, and gravy.
Combining textures may be too challenging for your picky eater. Peanut Butter and Jelly may literally send them into a meltdown with their senses.
The aroma of food cooking can be very overwhelming to your child. Is this why they just like PB sandwiches? Sometimes the smell cheese on a pizza or pasta can be too strong.
Are you noticing that your child only likes to eat cold food like jello, custards, and raw vegetables like celery, cheese and carrot sticks? Is warm food the only way your child will eat their meals?
You can attempt giving your picky eater a frozen treat or popsicle before they try a new food. The cold helps numb and desensitize their mouth.
Some children do not like food touching on a plate, like the peas next to the mashed potato. It can be quite distressing to them and cause them to not eat any of the food served. Serving food on plates with dividers or in ice cube tray alleviates this issue.
Try serving a range of food in ice cube trays. Foods served should be easy for kids to manage. Have finger food available that can be picked up and eaten; cut food into small, chewable bites or thin strips that are easy to hold onto; remove grapes from the bunch. This is a simple and wonderful idea for fussy eaters because it offers such a wide variety of choice. It is just like eating a buffet – only child size!! To encourage your child to develop healthy eating habits your family will want to model the positive behaviors. Time to fill your ice cube tray and start assembling some amazing visually pleasing lunch or snack trays! You could try a deconstructed pizza theme!
Remember this journey is unique for each child. Help your fussy eater overcome their fears and sensitivities and end the mealtime battles. Never battle over food, but if you know what causes the triggers with your child’s food, you will be able to offer a safe variety of foods to them. The key is to exercise patience and persistence without being forceful.
To discuss tips and strategies in greater detail head over to The Journey where we unpack these ideas and many others, as we empower Moms with wisdom, support and community to help their child.
Let me know what helps your child.