So much about the holidays seems to include food! Looking for ways to encourage your “picky eater” to try new things? Every baby and child is unique and there are a multitude of reasons for why a child refuses certain foods. While many toddlers and early school-age children experience some mealtime difficulties, there is a subset of children, many of whom have complex medical histories, who refuse most or all foods presented at meals. For these children, intervention with a multidisciplinary approach is critical and may require more specialized care.
For all of our kids, however, the primary goal is to assist them with developing a positive relationship with food. Try these beginning basics to coax your child to participate in learning about new foods while demystifying the process:
1. Encourage your child to help you at the grocery store by choosing some fresh fruits or vegetables and placing them in bags.
2. Ask for a helper at home to wash and dry fresh produce and place in a bowl.
3. Children usually LOVE to assist with food preparation…peeling, mashing and cutting with supervision. Take this time to discuss the properties of the food you are handling. What color is it? How does it smell? How does it feel? How does it change when we peel it, slice it or mash it?
4. Have your child help with clean up. They can discard the refuse by picking up and placing scraps in the garbage. “Pop” the garbage with your lips, blow the pieces with your mouth or drop the scraps with your fingers.
5. Family meal time – whenever possible, sit at the table for meals as a family unit. Solidarity sends a positive and powerful message.
6. Serve family style – passing food from person to person while serving allows the sights and smells of new foods to be part of the experience.
7. Encourage “playing” with food. Arrange foods to make smiley faces or letters, numbers or shapes. Avoid placing too many things on the plate. Start with one food and clear that before adding another. This keeps the plate visually interesting but not overwhelming.
Remember to have fun with food! Use positive dialogue such as “You can lick the peach!” rather than asking “Can you lick the peach?” Get messy! Interact, explore, manipulate and participate! With the emphasis on increasing interest and acceptance rather than eating, tastes, licks and nibbles often result. Good Luck!
–Anne Toolajian, MA, CCC-SLP