GOT PICKY EATERS?
Late last year I was contacted by a mom/occupational therapist that had developed and I-phone App for tracking what your family eats (sadly, I’m still enough of a luddite that I don’t have a smart phone yet and I haven’t personally used the app, but I had a friend test it out and she found it very helpful.) And of course, our low tech version can be found in the FEED STORE.
Anyway, we’ve kept in touch over the past few months and recently sent me an article that she had published dealing with Picky Eaters. I thought it was very insightful and had some great information about how to deal with this pervasive problem – she has a special insight being mother of twins who have completely different palates. So give a read and check out her app if you are not technologically repressed. – Mother Hen
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Picky Eaters: Nature, Nurture (or some form of Torture?)
Lindsay Steiner, OTR/L
As a new mom, I was determined to prevent my fraternal twins from becoming picky eaters. I am a pretty adventuresome eater and I am eager to raise children who have a diverse palate and appreciation for healthy eating. Yet, somehow, I ended up with one child who will try anything once and one super picky eater who gags and occasionally vomits when attempting a new food. Fabulous.
As a trained occupational therapist I am accustomed to helping other parents manage their picky eaters, but managing my own children was another story altogether! The difficulties I have had feeding my toddler almost felt like torture, and so my mommy experiments began.
My scientific questions: Was my picky eater a product of nurture (his environment) or nature (his biological predispositions)? How can I successfully increase the foods he will eat while maintaining my own sanity?
Subjects: Twin Foodie and Twin Picky; Fraternal boys. Currently 2 ½ years old.
Background: Is his environment a factor?: As my twins are offered the same foods, at the same times with the same parenting approach, I am going to discount “nurture” in my particular situation. However, in my professional experience I have observed that “nurture” often does play a significant role in food pickiness. If you never offer your child anything but “kiddie food”, don’t expect them to want to try your foie gras! Food refusal is also one of the only ways a toddler can successfully exert “control” over an adult, so be sure to consider whether your child truly does not like the food offered, or if behavior is playing its part.
What about nature?: Are we just genetically programmed for sensitivities? My education in sensory processing would suggest yes, and there is a growing body of scientific research to support this theory. For example, when Twin Picky gagged the first time avocado hit his mouth at the ripe old age of 7 months, he had not yet developed the picky behaviors he now has. Back then, he could be convinced to try something new, which he initially picked it up, rolled between his fingers, and rubbed on his lips. At that point, he would decide if was going to put it in his mouth. Usually the answer was no. Once his picky behaviors set in, however, he wouldn’t even touch the food presented to him, let alone put it to his lips and try it!
So what to do? How do I get veggies and fruit, any veggie or fruit, into his little body??
With Twin Picky I tried the scientific approach we all learned in school: change only one thing at a time so you know what works. Try each approach for a reasonable amount of time before switching. And guess what? After months of persistence, he has finally began trying new foods, including strawberries, watermelon, zucchini, asparagus, chia seeds, oatmeal and lasagna.
Methods: So what worked?
First: Relax!!! Kids sense your stress. Your attitude has to be “I don’t really care if you eat it or not” I know it’s hard, because you really, really care….but go as far as ignoring your child while they eat if you have to.
Second: Be patient and persistent: Your child did not become picky overnight….it was a long process. It will take a long time to change.
Third: Forget scientific method and try a combination of strategies at once! Here are some suggestions that worked for me:
- Figure out the characteristics of what your child likes: Crunchy? Salty? Smooth textures? Use those characteristics when selecting new foods. I found using “crunchy” was a great first step. Try freeze dried (not “dried with lots of extra sugar”) fruits and veggies. The “Just Tomatoes” brand worked great for us. They are sold in small quantities at Whole Foods or in larger (cheaper!) quantities on Amazon. Check out Just Tomatoes Veggies and Just Tomatoes Mixed Fruit for a sampler pack.
- Play to your child’s interest: If your child is into shapes, don’t use words like “vegetables” or “fruit”, cut foods into shapes and ask if they want “triangles” or “circles”. Make up silly names for foods or focus on the colors.
- Try a vibrating toothbrush instead of their regular toothbrush to help “desensitize” a picky eater’s mouth.
- Cook with your child. Let them touch and taste each ingredient.
- The biggest challenge is getting that very first taste in. Reward even the tiniest tastes of new foods with small amounts of a favorite food (1 goldfish, not a whole bag!)
- Use technology! There is a great app on iTunes called My Family Food that is a great motivational tool. It makes a fun “burp” sound when kids eat a bite or a serving of whatever food group you target. You can even track your whole family and have a competition to earn medals (A great way to get your husband to eat his veggies too!). I used it a lot when dining out since I always have my iPhone with me anyways. Click here to view
REMEMBER: Research shows it takes 10-20 times for a non-picky eater to decide they like a new food. So imagine how many times it must take for a picky eater to like something new! Keep offering the same new food during at least 1 meal per day for several weeks to provide consistency and adequate exposure.
Results: Twin Picky has a long way to go, but I am feeling a burst of confidence that he will eventually have as diverse of a palate as Twin Foodie, and that the “torture” is behind us.