If you have a picky eater on your hands, it can be frustrating to try to get them to eat something new. One of the best things you can do for a child is offer them a lot of exposure to various food types! This means having exposure without necessarily having the expectation of actually eating the foods we expose, at least right away. However, the more exposure, the more the child can build a relationship with foods.
Along with continuing to offer foods that are non-preferred for a child, try some new ways to expose them to food items based on the five senses!
Although we may not realize it, sight can play a major roll on how foods are accepted. A child sees a certain type of packaging and decides he does not want it, just based on how it looks.
- Try putting various food items in new containers as a way to spark interest and change up the initial “look” of a food item. (e.g., a new bowl, a cup, a small plastic baggy)
- Cut or break up a food item: a waffle by itself may look daunting, but if it is cut up into smaller bite sized pieces, it may look more tempting and child friendly. Or use a cookie cutter to cut the waffle into a pleasing shape.
- Pick colorful non-preferred food items to jazz up a plate, whether it is for play time, like making gold fish swim, or on a dinner plate to make a “pepper slice” smile.
- Talk about the shapes and colors you see with your child as you eat/play
You can draw attention to various sounds you hear while preparing to eat, eating and while experimenting with different foods.
- During food prep, have your child listen to you cutting and opening items. Pretend you are a kitchen Rockstar and use a pot/pan drum. Encourage a fun way for your child to interact while making the meal through sound!
- While playing with food or with eating, you can draw attention to the various sounds you hear. A cracker is loud and crunchy sounding, while the pudding you pat with your spoon sounds sticky.
- You can model different ways food sounds when you eat in front of/with the child, like the crunch of a carrot, or a quiet bite of a marshmallow.
Attempt to have your child touch and play with food items with their hands. This can get messy, but can also be a fun and beneficial way to expose your child to various foods/textures!
- During food prep or during play with food, talk about what the food item feels like. Ask your child to touch and look at the food item as you describe what you feel and see; also, you can try having your picky eater help prepare the meal by adding ingredients and stirring.
- If the child will not touch the food directly, try placing the food item (graham cracker, pudding, etc.) into a plastic bag. This will allow them the opportunity to “touch”, poke and play around with the item without having to actually touch the item’s at first.
- During play, pick a toy/toys your child prefers (e.g., race cars, Legos) and put the toys in with some preferred and non-preferred food items to encourage tactile play and touch with some new foods and textures. You could make a racetrack out of chocolate pudding with some preferred items on the track like pretzels or fruit loops.
The sense of smell can be a strong one that makes a connection to how food is received by a little one – so be careful! Strong smells (e.g., chicken, hot peppers, vinegar) may be off putting. There are a multitude of opportunities to have children smell things during meal prep and food play. Encourage your child to smell but do not force the issue.
- Talk about the things that you smell and offer for the child a chance to smell. Ask what he/she thinks of the smell. If the child is hesitant, during meal time and play, model smelling the different things and just talk about how it smells, without asking the child to do the same.
- Make a game of it: Put different food items in a closed bag or cup so the child can’t see it and then ask if he/she can guess what it is (you can give them choices! “Beans or lemon?”).
If you have a picky eater, it may be hard to get them to taste new things. You can and should model eating things!
- Try pretending the food is something else while modeling tasting it yourself! Maybe the strawberry is a snow ball or the pretzel is a plane.
- Have the child touch the food and encourage them to lick their fingers after preferred foods and foods they don’t like as much
- Encourage, but don’t force, the child to kiss and/or lick the food item
Overall, model and encourage the child. It is easiest if it is a playful and social engagement with the food included. Food and feeding is a very social activity and can be encouraged in social and fun ways with those they share mealtimes with!
-Teal Simmons, Speech Therapist