Picky eating is a familiar issue for many parents and kids. There are a few reasons children may not want to eat what you’re dishing up, and sensory sensitivity is one I encounter frequently in my practice.
Some children find certain textures and consistencies, temperatures, smells and tastes intolerable. For them, picky eating is part of a broader sensory sensitivity. For others, picky eating is an isolated issue that only surfaces during mealtimes.
Whether your child’s picky eating is part of an overall sensory sensitivity or not, it is important to understand that fighting these tendencies can do more harm than good, especially if your kitchen table becomes a battleground. However, there are some things you can do to minimize your child’s picky eating.
1. No Nudging
Fighting with your child over food choices creates power struggles. If a child occasionally doesn’t like a specific dinner menu or food, offer him another ready-made option, but there is no need to “cook to order”.
2. Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt
Keep presenting your family members with the same varieties of food. There is a good chance your child will start to nibble at a few of those colorful vegetable strips or other healthy items if you consistently serve them. (Crudites can become a new favorite, especially if they are served with an exciting dip!)
3. Play with Food
Allow your child to play with unfamiliar foods in a non-stressful environment. The Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach, shows that exposure through touch and play with food, may gradually lead to the eating of those foods.
4. Introduce New Foods Together with Familiar Foods
Take what your picky eater likes to eat and add to it. For example, when introducing chicken, start with placing a small bit of diced chicken mixed into their favorite rice. Or, if the only fruit they’ll eat is bananas, make a fruit salad with bananas and a small amount of a fruit they don’t want to try, such as melon. If you child likes cucumbers but won’t try lettuce, try making a cucumber salad with a bit of shredded lettuce. Increase the amounts of the new food over time.
5. Ambient Music
Play calming rhythms in the background at mealtimes. A calming atmosphere can help soothe a child who is hyper-vigilant about food variety. Which leads to…
6. Enjoy Mealtimes
Make mealtime an enjoyable time for all family members, a time where everyone feels nurtured, safe, and free to be themselves. The less attention you place on your child’s picky eating habits during mealtimes, the more likely it is that his or her food sensitivities will fall away. Sometimes, looking the other way is the best strategy.
Most people (including you and me) don’t like all foods. As long as your child eats a nutritionally-balanced diet overall, allowing him to skip a food or two that he particularly dislikes won’t harm him.