How to Help a Picky Eater (especially during quarantine!)
Katie Walczuk, OTR/L - April 21, 2020
Having a kid who is a picky eater is already a stressful situation, but when we can’t find the food our child likes at the grocery store these days, things may feel out-of-hand! P2P is here to help with some quick tips on how to help your little one manage their picky eating amongst slim pickings in the fridge.
- Keep consistent routines. Have you ever noticed that you can tell what time it is just based on when you feel hungry? That’s because your body has its own internal clock which helps us recognize when we’re tired, have to go to the bathroom, or when we’re hungry (think of that 2:00pm snack break)! A lot of our sensory kids have a hard time reading these internal feelings, which makes things like understanding that tummy rumble means they’re hungry, a lot harder! You can help out by offering food at the same time every day! Try your best to wake your child up at the same time every day, and offer snacks at a regular time. For example, if your child usually had breakfast at 8:00 AM before school, then had a snack at school at around 10:15 AM, try to stick with those same schedules. This will not only help them to learn these signals now, but will help them get back into the swing of things once this is (finally) all over!
- Play with your food. Now is the time to forget about manners, and focus on fun and learning! Kids learn through play, so set aside some time for you little one to play with food- without the expectation of eating it. Believe it or not, a lot more than just putting food into our mouths is involved in eating. Research shows it can take up to 10 presentations of the SAME food before a child will eat it, so we want to be able to allow our little ones as many opportunities to feel safe and comfortable around food as possible. We know it can be hard to get out of the mindset of “food is for eating, not for playing,” so check out our calendar below for a week of tips you can try with the food you have on hand!
- Portion Control. When offering a new food, be mindful of how much we’re giving them. Even when we’re simply asking them to play with a new food, it might be scary to see a big pile of broccoli! Try offering one small piece of broccoli and challenge your little one to turn their plate into a forest! It may seem wasteful to offer food just to have our kids play with it, but touching broccoli (or any other new food) can be hard work for some of our kiddos! Let’s be mindful of how much food we give them, and try to salvage as much as possible and save it for another playtime (or a snack when mom or dad is hungry). We all have limited resources these days while we’re doing our part and staying at home, so portion control rings true now more than ever!
- Get them involved in cooking! After stocking up (on whatever was left at the grocery store!), your child may not be used to some of the foods and may have a hard time trying something new. Stick with it; repeated exposure helps! Start the exposure (and fun) by having your child help open cans, stir the bowl, roll the dough, and get creative in the kitchen! (Just make sure everyone washes their hands for at least 20 seconds beforehand ☺)
- Ask for help! P2P is online and ready to tackle picky eating with you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with an occupational therapist who can personalize tips and strategies for you and your family.
Play to Learn Calendar: A whole week of tips to have fun with the food you have on hand! Click through to see them all :)
Serve meals in an ice cube tray for lots of fun! Remember small amounts of food (think: size of bean or even a single grain of rice) helps kids feel safe and at-ease around new foods!
Kids love putting food on spears! Get your kids involved in cooking by having them stick the foods on skewers. Bonus points for making them into animals, shapes, or color themes!
Who doesn’t love to pretend to be a teeny tiny person and eat with giant utensils? Try offering a serving spoon instead of a regular spoon at tonight’s meal!
Get yourself some kid-friendly learning chopsticks to enjoy new foods AND work on fine motor skills!
Cut shapes out of potatoes, carrots, celery, or any other kind of food you can imagine! Use real paint to paint with veggies OR double-it-up by dying dips like hummus different colors!
Stacking challenge! Cut up different foods into rectangles (or any flat shape) and instigate a stacking challenge! Whoever stacks the highest tower, wins!
Use celery sticks, green beans, carrots, etc. as a game board and small objects like berries as the game pieces! Use fun games like this to take the pressure off of trying new foods!
We are thinking of you all and can’t wait to see you again soon!