This post was originally posted in 2020 and is written by Jessica Getter, an occupational therapist at CP.
As a parent of a child who is a picky eater, you may feel like you just can't win at mealtime. Here are some easy, straight forward tips to making it dinner, or any other meal, with your picky eater in a way that will make both of you feel successful.
Tip #1: Stay Calm and Stay Positive
When picky eaters are pressured to eat food that they perceive as a challenge it triggers a stress response. This response causes the release of hormones that will reduce their appetite, thus having the opposite effect of what parents are trying to achieve. Remain calm and encourage family members to do the same. Focus on the small victories such as your child being able to come to the table or having a small portion on their plate. The positive energy that you emit will make your child feel less stressed about the meal situation.
Tip #2: Stick to normal meal and nap times
We know that kids do best when things are predictable and routine. Overtired kids who have been snacking all day will not make the best meal time companions and getting them to eat a good meal will be difficult. Sticking to a routine will help them remain calm so you can make good mealtime decisions together.
Tip #3: Offer some familiar foods
Plan ahead. If you'll be eating dinner at someone else's home, bring something to serve that you know your child will eat, even if it's non-traditional. If you think your host will be offended, have a conversation ahead of time and remind them to stay calm and positive when you all arrive. If your child likes dipping their foods, bring the dip along and you might be surprised that your child may experiment with dipping other new foods, too!
Tip #4: Keep serving sizes small
The goal when offering new foods is to underwhelm (not overwhelm!) your child. A heaping scoop of mashed potatoes may look like a mountain of a challenge to your child and they will quickly avoid and refuse to explore. Offer 1-2 teaspoons of new foods and this may trigger their curiosity.
Tip #5: Encourage self-serving and family-style serving
If you serve family-style at the table, allow your child to serve themselves or others. This will allow for exposure to the sights, smells, and textures of various foods without the stress of having to eat it. (Remember, repeated exposure!) When given the control, they may surprise you as to what choices they make and the new foods that may make it on their plate.
Use the tips that work best for you and your picky eater to make holiday meals enjoyable and fun for the entire family!
Looking for more tips? Check out this new article on CP's website!