How to Encourage Picky Eaters to Try New Foods

Hi, my name is Colin, an occupational therapy assistant here at Building Futures. I’m going to talk to you about how to encourage a picky eater to try new foods.

At the heart of eating and feeding development is a child’s ability to process sensory information, like taste, smells, textures, and how food looks. Eating and drinking requires all of our sensory systems to work together in a coordinated way. If a child’s sensory systems aren’t coordinating well, they can develop a sensitivity.

What Causes “Picky Eating”?

Some children seem to be excessively sensitive to the looks, smells, textures, and tastes of foods. This leads them to refuse to engage with something new. They may also be sensitive to the sensory information tied to the environment in which they’re eating, such as sounds, lights and temperatures.

They may wiggle or lean back in their chair when presented with new food. Some children may be inattentive, highly active, or perhaps lethargic and sluggish.

Caregivers often describe these children as “picky eaters,” but these reactions may indicate that the child is experiencing problems with sensory sensitivities at meal times instead.

How to Help Young Picky Eaters

First, start by making eating a pleasurable experience. Enjoy eating with your child and show them that you enjoy it too. Add the following routine to build familiarity with new foods and increase their comfort in trying them.

  • Offer the new food that you’re trying to introduce for at least five days in a row.
  • Offer at least one preferred food item along with their unpreferred food.
  • Encourage (but don’t force) your child to try the new food. If the child allows a new food on their plate, that’s a good start.
  • Once the child allows the new food on their plate, encourage them to look at it and describe it. What color or shape is it?
  • At the next meal,  encourage the child to touch it. Is it bumpy, soft, smooth, hard?
  • Invite them to smell it. Does it smell sour, sweet, spicy?
  • Encourage the child to taste the food. They can start by just licking it or kissing with their lips. They can even just take a bite and then spit it out.
  • Encourage the child to swallow before taking another bite.

More Tips To Help Picky Eaters

Praise your child for all engagement with food.

Let your child feed you the non-preferred item or have them “feed” it to their favorite stuffed animal.

Consider involving the child in food preparation. Some children may tolerate foods better by handling them first before they eat them.

Let the child explore foods at other times in order to see, touch and smell them. For example, “paint” with yogurt or pudding. This will help a child’s interaction with the food but with no expectation of them having to eat it.

Contact Building Futures for More Information

Remember, this can be a slow process. It may take over fifteen exposures before a new food is accepted. These tips are a great place to start. If you have any other concerns about your picky eater, give us a call. We’d love to help you.

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