Eating Healthy When Your Kid Is a Picky Eater
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In my South Florida occupational therapy sessions, parents are often concerned about wanting their picky eaters to “eat healthy”.
I want to start this article by acknowledging that the concept of healthy is different to everyone. For many people, this can be as simple as knowing that their child is getting adequate nutrition and calories. For others, they want their children to eat organic fruits and vegetables.
Generally, when parents tell me they want their kid to “eat healthy,” it means that they want them to eat the “healthy” meal that the family eats on a normal basis.
As an occupational therapist, my job is to help your picky eater learn to interact with and consume those foods in a positive way, so that they can better participate in family dinners.
When families come in for the evaluations, one of the first questions that I ask is what foods their child currently eats. The patterns of foods that they eat can tell us a lot!
Many times, picky eaters seem to navigate towards packaged foods or “junk foods” because they feel safe.
When you open a bag of chips, you know exactly what to expect. It has the same crunch, flavor, and appearance every time you eat it.
This is not the case with fresh fruits and vegetables (or most homemade meals). Let’s take blueberries as an example. Some blueberries are tart and more firm. Other blueberries (in the exact same container) are sweeter and squishier. This can be confusing for children. They’re not sure what to expect each time, and they may like one more than the other! This might also explain why you open a banana and your child immediately says “no!” The banana you opened might look different (have a bruise), or be to mushy for them.
Eating some foods also requires more complex skills. Usually, when working with picky eaters, I like to see how they eat. This helps tell me if there are skills that may be impacting their ability to eat certain foods.
Packaged foods are usually easier to chew and manipulate in your mouth. Many times, they also dissolve quite easily, which helps kids with weaker oral motor skills. Things like spinach, kale, and meat can take quite a long time to chew and require better muscle endurance.
Fruits and vegetables tend to be a different sensory experience.
To this day, my husband still does not eat the majority of fruits. Accordingly, to him he “doesn’t like them.” The truth is, for him it’s a sensory issue. He dislikes the way that fruits feel in his mouth. Whether it’s the seeds, the juice inside fruits, or just the overall mushier texture, fruit and vegetables can be challenging for the sensory system.
Where do you start with getting kids to eat “healthier” foods?
The best place to start is by figuring out the reason behind WHY your child has difficulty eating a certain food. Occupational therapists and speech therapists both specialize in feeding difficulties and can help you figure out what is happening with your child.
Here’s a couple of common things I work on with families:
· Food chaining: Starting with a food that a kid really likes and making small changes to gradually getting a child to eat a desired food.
· Changing the texture: Sometimes you can take the same exact food and cook it a different way that a child may accept more.
· Becoming more familiar with a food: Certain foods get a bad rap with kids. Taking the pressure off of eating the food, and having readily available in a non-threatening way, will help kids feel more comfortable and safe around it. Think, using broccoli to paint instead of trying to “get them” to eat it.
Does your picky eater refuse to eat “healthier” foods at home? Schedule a free parent consult to see how we can help!
Hope to hear from you soon,
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