Parenting a picky eating can leave you with lots of questions. Find out the answers to 7 common picky eating questions!
There’s about a million questions when you have a picky eater. I get it.
Picky eating is stressful and it can cause battles with your child all day long. Our incredible newsletter subscribers got a chance to ask me anything a few months ago. There were so many good questions, I wanted to answer as many of them as possible.
This special post is a roundup of 7 picky eater parenting questions from our community, that I bet you have too. It’s the third and final installment in our Ask Me Anything series. Check out the sensory questions and specific baby/toddler feeding questions, too.
I Have a Picky Eater Question! I Need to Know…
How to help kids that eat one food until they tire of it never to go back. Why? – Cheryl
Oh, it’s so frustrating! And really common for picky eaters to suddenly drop foods that they used to LOVE, never to eat them again.
This happens for two reasons:
- They burned out on eating it so many times
- Something tasted different about the food the last time they ate it.
Let me explain a little more.
With the first reason, this typically develops because a child had a food jag. Food jags are foods that picky eaters will only eat if they’re prepared a certain way or are a specific brand. For example, your child eats one type and flavor of yogurt, but no others.
They’d refuse to even try. That’s a food jag. Food jags are dangerous because a child eats them so much with no variation that they burn out on them and never eat them again.
It’s important to try to break down those food jags making small changes to their food. These changes must be SUPER small. It could be as small as serving that yogurt in a bowl instead of the cup it comes in. Then you make bigger and bigger changes, working your way up to buying different brands and flavors.
The second reason is often because the food was overcooked, or the fruit was going bad. It was probably a really small change to their food, one you wouldn’t have noticed, but that small change surprised them and they didn’t like it.
Now, they’re fearful the food will taste like that again, and so they refuse it!
You can help your child start to eat a food they used to eat, by serving it again, regularly. If they’re old enough, ask them why they haven’t eaten it. That could give some insight and allow you to provide a solution. For instance, if they won’t eat the strawberries anymore because the last one they ate tasted funny, you can tell them about how fruit can go bad.
Then, you pull out new strawberries and show them that they’re fresh. It’s also helpful to remind them that they can politely spit food out into a napkin anytime they need to.
You also can try a food that’s very similar. For instance, if they don’t eat potato chips anymore, they might go for tortilla chips if you serve it a few times.
I’d also work on changing up the presentation food. If they won’t eat a grilled cheese anymore, then try one cut into strips.
How to get kids to eat sauces and dips and meat? – Jamie
I’m so glad you asked this question, Jamie! A lot of parents give up on sauces and dips because picky eaters don’t naturally gravitate towards them, but they’re a powerful tool!
The first step is to serve them often, and rotate through serving different types. Then, demonstrate using the dip or sauce with a food they like. You can also encourage them to dip just their finger in the dip and draw a little bit on their plate with the dip. Some picky eaters will struggle to do this, but showing them how to wipe off their hands helps!
This will take some practice, so keep trying.
We have a big list of dip ideas for kids (some you’d probably never think of, but work really well) and more strategies to get your child eating dip at Help for Picky Eaters: Using Dips
As for meat, it’s possible! Check out How to Get Your Kid to Eat Meat for tips.
How to introduce new foods and how can you tell if a child genuinely does not like something verses they are just stuck in a pattern of only eating the same things? – Nicole
Another great question! MOST picky eaters will emphatically say they don’t like x, y, or z. But, they really have no idea what they like and what they don’t. Research tells us that kids need at least 12-13 times of trying a food before they know if they like it or not.
They’ve usually come no where near trying a food that many times!
If your child is stuck saying they don’t like certain foods, tell them nicely, “Oh, well you don’t know, you have try a food at least 13 times before you know if you like it or not. It’s your choice if you eat it or not, but you don’t know yet if you like it or not.”
Of course, we all have at least a few foods we don’t like, and that’s okay, but I try never to label foods that way, even in my own mind.
Once your child is eating a wide variety of foods, then you can tell what foods they truly don’t like because there should only be a few of them. Before that point, there’s so many layers to picky eating that need worked out!
How to deal with a child who once food gets in front of him (sitting at the table) throws a tantrum? – Saddy
First, I always make sure there’s one food that they always eat. Many picky eaters will freak out if they get to the table and see only new foods. Picky eaters may also tantrum if new foods are just on their plate, while that’s something I encourage, you might have to start with just foods they eat on their plate and slowly work your way up to one new food on their plate.
Divided plates can help a lot with this, if you aren’t using one already!
If I’ve done all of that and there’s still a tantrum, I’d first try to redirect and not address the fuss. I might say, “What story did Ms. Smith read to you at school? I heard it had a funny ending!” Or, “Tell Daddy what Marshall did on Paw Patrol today.”
If they’re very upset and can’t even be talked to, I’ll remove them from the table saying, “Let’s calm down and try again in 2 minutes.” And then, I follow through on that.
Check out How to Keep Your Child Seated for Meals for more tips. You’ll also find a free printable!
What should feeding therapy with an OT look like? – Devin
Generally, a child and therapist are sitting at a table and exploring or trying to eat food. There are several ways this is usually accomplished. The traditional approach is using behavioral techniques. In this case, an OT or feeding therapist would ask the child to take a bite and then give them a reward for doing so. I do not use this approach.
Research over the last 15-20 years has continued to support a child directed exploratory approach. With this style of therapy, the OT would try to engage the child in interacting with the food and slowly work their way up to eating it.
I believe feeding therapy shouldn’t be stressful, and based on respect for the child.
Feeding therapy may also involve sensory play and/or oral motor exercises!
Check out Everything About Feeding Therapy to learn more!
Can you share proven recipes for picky eaters? – Anna
Oh yes I can, Anna. I’m not aware of any specific research regarding specific foods, but in my 15+ years of experience, there’s a lot of recipes/foods I’ve seen work over and over. Here’s a list:
- Crispy thin chicken nuggets
- Simple high calorie smoothie
- No Trouble Baked Potato Skin Recipe for Picky Kids
- Mini meatballs
- Baby Carrots
What causes a child to be picky only with her parents? What can we do to reduce this pickiness (eat out less, have her help cook, etc)? – Courtney
It’s actually a sign that a child’s picky eating isn’t very severe if they will eat for other people. A very extreme picky eater consistently doesn’t eat. Often, a child won’t eat for their parents if they feel pressure or are looking for attention. Pressure can come when we reward, beg, bribe, or even praise our kids about what they’re eating.
Learn more about how to not pressure during meals in The Best Strategy for Picky Eating.
To reduce pickiness, letting go of that pressure is the best step you can take! That’s a good place to start so that you can begin to see progress. Cooking together is very helpful as well because it allows her to explore and interact with the ingredients.
You’ll also want to focus on making one family dinner and picking one or two of the foods she typically eats to serve with the meal. It’s a small thing, but can go a long way!
Learn 3 Keys to Help EVERY Picky Eater Eat More Foods
One of the biggest lies about picky eating is that it can’t get better. I can tell you that I’ve watched some of the most picky eaters with only a few foods in their diet learn to overcome picky eating and eat well. It’s possible. For your child, too.
But, you have to have a plan for your picky eater so you know what to do at every step.
Join me in my free picky eating workshop: 3 Keys to Turn Around Picky Eating to learn the most essential first steps. It really works. Megan, a parent of two picky eaters had this to say after watching:
I implemented your three keys last night at dinner time last night and it was our first night of peace and enjoyment together at the table. It’s exactly what my son needed and my daughter realized she LOVES mushrooms 🙂 (which she refused to eat before).
More Picky Eater Tips
Milanaik Ruth, Kahan F Tamara, Muthiah Nallammai, Fruitman Kate and Sidhu, Sharnendra. Parental Management of Picky Eaters: Common Parenting Pitfalls. Pediatrics, Aug. 2019, 144(2), 210. DOI 10.1542/peds.144.2_MeetingAbstract.210
Caldwell R Angela, Skidmore R Elizabth, Raina D Ketki, Rogers C Joan, Terhorst Lauren, Danford A Cynthia, and Bendixen M Roxanna. Behavioral Activation Approach to Parent Training: Feasibility of Promoting Routines of Exploration and Play During Mealtime (Mealtime PREP). Am J Occup Ther Nov/Dec 2018, 72(6), 1-8. DOI: 10.5014/ajot.2018.028365
Nicklaus Sophie, Boggio Vincent, Chabanet Claire, and Issanchou Sylvie. A prospective study of food variety seeking in childhood, adolescence and early adult life. J. Appet. June 2005, 44(3), 289-97. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2005.01.006
Wardle J and Cooke L. Genetic and Environmental Determinants of Children’s Food Preferences. Br J Nutr. Feb 2008, 99(supp 1), S15-21, DOI: 10.1017/S000711450889246X
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 15 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.