Do you have a picky eater in your life? Are you dreading meal times this upcoming holiday season? For picky eaters, it is important to alleviate the pressure associated with eating, increase exposure to foods, and unlock all of the senses related to eating. If it seems like a lot to ask, try to remember the acronym “THANKS” for your special meals the next few months.
Pre-teach your picky eater about the new and exciting foods that they may encounter throughout the holidays. Make a menu photo album on your phone with pictures from Google. Remember the senses are important – as you look at the pictures, talk about what the foods may smell feel, and look like. Encourage your child to predict the texture and compare the foods to things they already like: “That looks crunchy like a cracker!”, or “Oooh that looks cheesy! I bet it is cheesy just like the string cheese you eat for lunch!”
Children love doing adult “jobs”! Let your child help load your plate at meal time so they can see your plan to eat a variety of foods. Ask them for suggestions for what you should eat, and talk to them while you are eating it: “Wow, those mashed potatoes you put on my plate are so yummy. Thank you! I am glad you got those for me!” Again, keep in mind the senses – while helping out your kiddo might get a little of the food on their hands, or touch a foreign, never-tried-before food with a utensil. Great exposure!
Act or model desirable behavior for your child. For example, if the barrier is their unwillingness to try new foods, select a food that you are not fond of, and model to your child that you are at least willing to try it. Invite them to try it with you so that you are participating in the experience together. To create a greater exposure to textures and smells of new foods, you can also model silly play with food, like making string bean moustaches, sweet potato food smiles, or carrot noses with leftovers.
The smell of foods can be a deterrent when it comes to picky eaters. So, don’t forget the nose! While cleaning up, put different foods in paper bags and make a game for all the kids to see who can guess the food by smell alone. Encourage conversation and description of what they are smelling.
Be kind and patient with your child. Children are less likely to try new foods when they are forced to eat something. Saying things like: “Just eat it,” or “You can’t get up until you eat it,” may further exacerbate your meal-time woes. Instead, provide small portions of less desirable foods, a variety of food options, and consider adjusting your food-trying goals for your picky eater. Rather than forcing a child to eat something, encourage them to at least touch it, smell it, poke it with a utensil, or at the very least, accept it being on their plate.
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