Tag Archive for: picky eaters

better meal time

Turn “I Don’t Want That!” into “More Please!”: How to Help Your Picky Eater

As a parent, it is probably not difficult to know when you have a picky eater on your hands. Meal time should be a pleasurable experience for everyone and an opportunity to spend quality time with family. Read the tips below to alleviate stress during meals with a picky eater.

Tips to Make a Better Mealtime for Your Picky Eater:

Make a routine, and stick to it. Make a routine out of meal time. Set expectations such as setting theHow to Make a Better Meal Time for Your Picky Eater table, turning off the TV, and sitting at the table as a family.

Stay relaxed and calm. The more relaxed and calm you are during mealtime, the more likely your child will be relaxed and calm too.  Model the behaviors you want your child to display.

Remove Pressure. Don’t place pressure on your child to eat certain foods. Delete the “you have to” and “if you don’t eat this…” sayings from your vocabulary. This fosters negative feelings and experiences with feeding. We want positive and happy feelings associated with meals in order to support healthy eating habits!

Eliminate distractions, grazing, and long mealtimes. Turn off the TV and put away the toys and electronics! Additionally, keep meal time to 30 minutes or less. The longer a mealtime becomes, the less pleasant mealtime may be. Consume solids first and liquids last, since liquids are more filling. Discourage snacking and grazing throughout the day, because this can lead to decreased appetite at meal times.

Serve a variety of food consistencies and tastes. This ensures that your child has exposure to multiple tastes, textures, and temperatures of food. Involve your child in grocery shopping and in meal preparation. The more a child understands about food and is an active participant in making food and mealtime happenings, the less surprising a new food is likely to be.

Explore new foods and make it fun. This may help decrease anxiety caused by unfamiliar or nonpreferred foods. Play with food, and don’t worry about making a mess! Smell, touch, lick, and bite foods to explore them and increase your child’s exposure. Talk about the food and describe it. How does it feel, what does it look like?

Don’t feel discouraged if you feel like nothing is changing. Your child may not be requesting a well-rounded meal tomorrow, but these tips will help you get there!

Seek the guidance of an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist if your child is particularly resistant and consumes a limited diet, as these may be signs of being a problem feeder.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!
Reference: North Shore Pediatric Therapy (2011). Picky eating: when to be concerned and how you can help. [PowerPoint slides].

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Gustatory System

The gustatory system, or our sense of taste, allows us to recognize the five basic taste sensations of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. This sense is meant to keep us safe from ingesting things that are toxic, spoiled, or inedible. It plays a very important role in eating and drinking but is not the only sense that allows us to perceive flavor. It would be very difficult to identify the foods we eat without additionally relying on texture, temperature, and sense of smell. When the gustatory system and its closely related senses in the mouth are over or under responding to oral input, you may see a range of disruptive behaviors in children with sensory processing concerns. The need for adequate oral input may cause a child to constantly put inedible objects in his mouth. These may be the children who always seem to ruin their shirt sleeves or collars no matter how many times you remind them not to chew their clothing. Or perhaps the more intense input of oral stimuli are causing your child to refuse all but a select few foods. As frustrating as it can be, the threat of certain tastes, smells, and textures feel very real to a child who is over responding to oral input.

Red Flags for Hyper or Hyposensitivity to oral input:Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Gustatory System

  • Considered a picky eater, often with a food repertoire that is specific to brand or the way in which food is presented. These children often become very anxious at the thought of trying new foods and may gag when presented with one. Mixed textures tend to be particularly difficult for these children.
  • Limited variety in the types of tastes, textures, or temperatures of food; may eat food only near room temperature and with bland flavors
  • May prefer food either very hot or very cold. May also enjoy heavily seasoned foods or frequent use of condiments
  • Dislikes brushing teeth, complains about toothpaste, or has a strong fear of the dentist
  • Loves going to the dentist or using strong toothpaste flavors. May also love to use vibrating toothbrushes
  • Frequent drooling
  • Licks, chews, or mouths inedible objects frequently, such as clothing, hands, toys, pencils, or small objects they find on the ground

Strategies to provide adequate oral input:

  • Provide a chewy tool; there are now a variety of ways to discretely utilize them. Whether using a chew tube, chewlery, or a chewy pencil topper, your child will have frequent access to a more appropriate chew toy than his t-shirt!
  • Incorporate snacks throughout the day that are crunchy, chewy, or otherwise resistive. Think granola, pretzels, carrots, taffy, jerky, gum, or drinking thick liquids such as smoothies, yogurt, or applesauce through a straw.
  • Regularly use a water bottle with a straw throughout the day.
  • Use tools or play games that require your child to forcefully blow air out of their mouths. Try whistles or kazoos, blowing bubbles, blowing up balloons, using a straw to blow a cotton ball across the table, using a straw to blow bubbles into a drink, or making art with Blo-pens.
  • Try gum or hard candies with strong sweet or sour flavors. Sucking on popsicles or lollipops is a great strategy too.

Consulting with an occupational therapist can be helpful in understanding your child’s specific needs. Because children with significant over or under responsive behaviors to oral input may develop habits that are potentially harmful to their health (i.e., mouthing inedible objects or a severely limited diet), it is important to seek guidance when needed. Incorporating appropriate oral input within a sensory diet or participating in feeding therapy to expand food repertoire can greatly improve your child’s response to or need for oral input.


More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System
  4. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Vestibular System
  5. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Visual System

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Boy gardening

Adding A Little “Spice” To Life: Gardening For Children

Flowers are in bloom, the weather is warmer, and families are firing up the grill…why not add some home-grown spices to the foods you and your family enjoy?  Taking care of the herbs will give your children ownership and teach responsibility all while making them proud of their accomplishments!

Here is how to create your own herb garden:

Boy gardeningSupplies:

  • Herb seeds of your choice (parsley, scallions, chives, rosemary, mint, dill, etc.).
  • Seeding pots—small terra cotta pots work great and are cheap!
  • Top soil – ideally, the top soil should be specific for herbs, but any type will do.
  • A small gardening shovel (small hands also make a great “shovel”!).
  • Water
  • Labels for your herbs


1)      Fill the pot 2/3 with soil.

2)      Place a few seeds and gently cover with more soil.

3)      Water the seeds enough so that the pot does not overflow.

4)      Place pot in a sunny place.

5)      Water as needed, usually when the soil looks dry. Be sure not to over-water!

6)      Once herb grows to about 6-8”, cut each branch close to the leaf intersection.  If there are no leaves (ex: parsley), remove the oldest branches to use.

7)      Enjoy!!

Planting herbs may help a picky eater choose how to make their food taste better.  Herbs are associated with having various health benefits and can also awaken the senses!!

Is your child a picky eater?  NSPT can help your child discover new foods and help make mealtime a little easier.


Help! My child is a picky eater!

The picky eater phenomenon is not uncommon, and can be quite challenging and stressful for parents.

Picky eaters have the following characteristics/behaviors

  • Eat a limited number of foods (20-30).
  • Avoid classes of foods such as red meat or green vegetables.
  • May reject foods they previously accepted, but will re-accept these foods after a two-week break.
  • Will try some new foods after being exposed to the food several different times.
  • Will touch and play with new foods, although they may not eat it at first.
  • Picky eaters usually eat enough to support growth within normal ranges.  (1, 2)

How To Encourage Your Picky Eater, To Eat More:

To alleviate some stress, first examine if your expectations for your child’s eating is realistic. Kids are naturally wary of new things (think “stranger danger”), including new foods. Picky EaterTheir first reaction to something they have never seen, smelled, touched or tasted before is to not trust it. Do not be discouraged if your child doesn’t love hummus, spinach, and salmon right away. It takes an average of 8-15 exposures to a new food before the child will actually eat it (2). Also, toddlers and teens particularly want to exert their sense of control and opinion, including what they will (and won’t) eat. In other words, sometimes a strong-willed child will refuse to eat what you want them to just because it gives them control over that aspect of their environment.

Typically developing young children will eat according to their innate hunger and satiety cues. That is, they will eat what they need when they are hungry and not when they are satisfied. Imagine how you might feel if you were full from dinner, and someone comes at you with a spoonful of food telling you to take another bite. Imagine you are really full, and the thought of taking another bite makes you sick. Now this person starts yelling at you and threatening to punish you. How would you feel? It can be difficult to let go and trust your child’s appetite. Your job as the parent is to provide healthy meal choices, regular mealtimes and snacks, and a positive eating environment without toys or TV.

Finally, using bribes like “one more bite and you can have dessert”, and punishments such as “you can’t play outside if you don’t finish your plate” are not effective in the long run. Doing these things negates children’s natural ability to eat what they need. It also creates a negative, untrustworthy dynamic between the child and the caregiver at the table. Picky eaters will continue to thrive and meet their nutrition needs when provided an optimal mealtime environment. A dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy can counsel families to help picky eaters.

However, there is a difference between a picky eater and a problem feeder. Problem feeders have more rigid food preferences, a dwindling number of accepted foods, and will refuse food (and drinks) that are not part of their repertoire to the point of malnutrition. These children require more intensive evaluation and therapy, and benefit from multidisciplinary treatment available at North Shore Pediatric Therapy. I will further discuss problem feeders in my blog next week.

  • Carruth BR, Skinner J, Houck K, Moran III J, Coletta F, Ott D. The phenomenon of “picky eater”: a behavioral marker in eating patterns of toddlers. J Am Coll Nutr 17:180-186, 1998.
  • Carruth BR, Ziegler PJ, Gordon A, Barr SI. Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jan;104(1Suppl1):s57-64.

5 Ways to Get Your Picky Toddler to Eat 

toddler not eating dinner

Struggling to get your toddler to eat a variety of foods? Tired of watching them eat the same foods from the same food group over and over again? Have no fear! NSPT’s very own dietitian is here! 🙂

First and foremost, is your child a picky eater? Do they refuse to eat any of the healthy foods that you offer? Have you tried unsuccessfully to get them to eat different healthy foods? Is the number of foods they are willing to eat so limited it concerns you? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, your child may be a selective eater. However, in many cases, picky eating has nothing to do with food and has more to do with control.

5 Tips for a Picky Eater

1. Set a schedule. Children tend to respond well to routine, so try to schedule a set time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and at least two small snacks. The more consistent the timing, the more your child will get accustomed to eating every two to three hours.

2. Take advantage of food jags. Does your toddler only eat plain macaroni orr pieces of cheese? Have no fear – the good news is that they’re eating! It’s safe to assume that eventually they will get over these “food jags”, and now is the time to experiment with healthier alternatives without taking away their favorite food. For example, try pasta with added fiber or cheese made with two percent milk for healthier alternatives.

3. Don’t give up. When it comes to getting your picky eater to try new foods, be patient. Studies show that it can take up to 15 to 20 consistent tries in a period of one to two months for a child to even consider trying a new food. If your child doesn’t want to eat chicken on Monday, try again on Friday or the following week.

4. Participation is key. Try to get your child involved with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Let them pick out fruits and vegetables at the local farmers’ market and get them involved in the kitchen. The more you get them involved with what they can eat, the more likely they’ll be to try it.

5. Remember the rule of thumb: your child will decide what he or she will eat, but you as a parent decide what foods and how often. Especially during the ages of two to five, children try to gain their independence with their eating behavior. The less you try to force them to eat, the more likely your child will be able to control their own food intake.

What is your secret to get your picky eater to eat? What has worked for you? Do share!