Do you shudder when you have to think of what to prepare for dinner tonight? I do. I have a picky eater at home and end up feeling like a short order cook, just to ensure that she eats something.
In my continuous search for solutions I discovered that we get four different types of picky eaters:
- The children who do not want to try new food
- Children who will only eat certain foods
- Children who spend a long time at the table without actually eating anything and
- Children who refuse certain colours or textures when it comes to eating food.
Shock, horror – she falls into all four categories! Jemma will not try anything new, she will only eat starchy food and meat, she will spend an inordinate amount of time at the table to just take two bites of her food and she definitely refuses anything green and crunchy.
Oral defensiveness is apparently the leading cause of being a picky eater at the dining room table. Children who are orally defensive often exhibit some of the following signs:
- They only eat a limited variety of food
- They are extremely reluctant to try new food types
- These children only eat soft or pureed food still after the age of two
- Children who are orally defensive often gag on their food
- They choke easily or have difficulty sucking, chewing or swallowing
- They often over stuff their mouths with food (which then can lead to gagging or choking)
- These children do not like brushing teeth and can have a fear of the dentist and any dental procedure
- They often prefer only hot food or only cold food
- They tend to dislike toothpaste and mouthwash
- They avoid seasoned, spicy, sweet, sour or salty food and would rather eat bland food.
If your child, like mine, seems to be orally defensive; here are some tips on how to overcome this sensitivity:
- Forget what you learned as a child and allow your child to play with his food.
- It might help to grind up the food that the rest of the family is having to get her used to different tastes without having to deal with different textures.
- When you have found a favourite food, try to introduce similar foods. If for example your little one likes cheese pizza expand his repertoire slowly by adding ham to the pizza.
- Usually it would be seen as a bad thing, but with orally defensive children distractions like a toy or the television, can be helpful! It draws his full attention away from what he is hesitant to do.
- Bribery is a useful tool. Agree beforehand that if he tastes, chews or swallow a bit of something new – he can receive an agreed upon reward. It is all in an effort to expose him to new tastes and textures.
- A reward chart in a noticeable spot in the house can be helpful. If he can see more and more stickers added on a chart on the fridge, he should become more confident and therefore more adventurous.
- A limited choice will give your child a sense of control over what he puts into his mouth.
- Try to include different textures on his plate of food, but remember to keep the portions of new foods small.
- Give your child free reign of condiments – if he eats the peas only when covered in tomato sauce, so be it.
- Praise, praise and praise your child even for the smallest effort. Do not scold him if he does not succeed, scolding will lead to negative associations with food.
- Respect your child’s appetite – do not force him to eat if he is not hungry.
- Stick to a routine where there are no snacks for at least an hour before mealtime
- Have patience – only with repeated exposure of new foods will you succeed.
- Make mealtime fun! Use a cookie cutter do make different shapes, give dips with meals, or give breakfast for dinner.
- Get your child involved in the shopping, let him choose something that he wants to try out.
- It is important that you set the example of healthy eating habits – if you do not eat vegetables, you cannot expect it of him.
- Sometimes healthy bits can be disguised in favourite food – who will notice the blend of carrots and baby marrow in spaghetti bolognaise?
- Do not become a short order cook for your child.
Many parents with children that are picky eaters are worried about their child’s weight and whether they are getting in all the minerals and vitamins that they need to grow and function. A good target to set for your child is to try and cover all the food groups in one week and not in one day. If you are unsure of what a child should be having in a period of a week, here is a reminder:
- Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta (6 – 11 servings)
- Fruit (2 – 4 servings)
- Veg (2 – 4 servings)
- Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese (2-3 servings)
- Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts (2 -3 servings)
- Fats, Oils and Sweets (sparingly)
Giving a multi-vitamin, eases many parents’ worries. If your child is growing and happy, generally there should not be anything to be worried about!