Tips for Parents of Picky Eater Children


Tips for Parents of Picky Eater Children – I attended a seminar for parents of picky eaters. What I thought was going to be a ‘how to convince my child to eat broccoli’ seminar turned out to be more about the entire feeding and eating process with children.

I think most parents have faced the food battle in their home in one way or another. Whether it be about getting your child to eat a certain food or having difficulties with feedings. I would say mine dates back to when my kids were infants. I chose to nurse them only to feel doubt about whether they were eating enough. Others around me would say “How do you know if he’s getting enough?” Then as my children got older, I was faced with sensory issues (gagging and vomiting), and food allergies and acid reflux which resulted in pain and vomiting. Because I put so much emphasis on food, I spent a majority of feeding times completely stressed out and worried.

This seminar broke out potential eating and feeding causes and provided possible solutions. I will provide a shortened version here that I hope some will find helpful.

How Sensory Processing Difficulties May Affect Eating:

An individual with sensory integration dysfunction has an inability to organize sensory information as it comes in through the senses. Issues with sensory processing (either over-responsive – hypersensitive, or under-repsonsive – hyposensitive) will likely affect eating. Examples of this are:

  • tactile/touch – having difficulty with certain textures
  • taste – the taste of food causes gagging or spitting it out
  • smell – undesirable food smells can affect the child eating other foods
  • hearing – may startle easily or may not respond
  • vision – a lot of food options can be overwhelming and may attempt to scatter food off the table
  • vestibular – anxiety and adrenaline increase and then appetite is suppressed
  • proprioception – being unaware of his surroundings, child may miss his mouth with the utensils, bite cheek or tongue, overstuff mouth

The reasons a child won’t eat can be physical or behavioral. Here are a few examples of each to look out for.

Physical Reasons Children Are Picky Eaters or Won’t Eat:

  • Pain associated with GERD, sore throat, stomach illness, etc.
  • Discomfort due to fatigue, allergies, constipation, nausea, etc.
  • Immature motor, oral-motor, and or swallowing skills can cause choking, poor hand to mouth coordination, aspiration and more 

Behavioral/Emotional Reasons Children Are Picky Eater or Won’t Eat:

  • Child is depressed, anxious, fearful of the unfamiliar, has sensory processing problems
  • Parent does not give the child any positive reinforcement or modeling of appropriate eating behaviors

Tips for parents of picky eater to promote effective feedings and eating:

  • Maintain a division of responsibility in feedings… parents are responsible for what they serve and when, and where they serve the food. Children are responsible for how much they eat and whether they eat any at all.
  • Sit down and eat with your child
  • Turn off the TV at meal time
  • Model good feeding
  • Always eat at the same table for meals, same times, etc.
  • Present only 3 foods at a time to start and add more as tolerated
  • At least one of the foods needs to be a preferred food
  • Several other foods can be on the table for exposure
  • Offer 5-6 meals and snacks each day for proper growth and development
  • Limit snacks to 15 minutes and meals to 30 minutes
  • Give reinforcements and praise

If you have serious concerns regarding your child’s weight, consult a nutritionist or your pediatrician.

Pediatric Nutrition Therapy Clinic
CHM Stilson Specialty Center
Clinton Township, Michigan

Tips for Parents of Picky Eater Children Source – Early On Oakland Family Support Series via Great Start Oakland.

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