If you have a picky eater at home, mealtimes can be stressful for everyone. As parents, we just want our kids to eat a well-balanced diet so they can grow healthy and strong. But if a child has aversions to foods, mealtimes can quickly turn into power struggles, standoffs, and negative experiences surrounding this daily activity. Research suggests that introducing new or non-preferred foods in a playful, non-threatening way outside of mealtimes can help improve your child’s relationship with food.
In general, learning how to interact with foods is an important skill for children to develop. This allows children to process and understand all the different properties of foods using each of their sensory systems.
Some kids may avoid foods that look or smell different, even if it is similar to a food they already eat. Some kids may avoid foods that feel a certain way, or even look like they feel a certain way. Ultimately, our picky eaters will often avoid, reject, or be overwhelmed by new foods because they do not know what to expect, which can cause them to reject it entirely. By allowing our kids the opportunities to explore and interact with new and unfamiliar foods outside of mealtime, they can have more control and understanding of what a food might look like, feel like, and taste like in their mouth.
Listed below are three ways to help a child learn or interact with foods without the expectation and pressure to eat the food, as a way to build more comfort and positive experiences around foods.
1. Grocery Shopping
- Give your child their own list of foods to pick out at the store
- Let your child pick out foods:
- What color grapes are you getting?
- How many apples?
- Are we having the purple box of macaroni and cheese or the blue box this week?
- Physically putting fruits and vegetables in the bag
- Putting the groceries on the conveyer belt
- Unpacking the groceries
- Have your child take the groceries out of the bag
- Have your child help with what foods go in the refrigerator or the pantry
- Allow your child to help with washing any foods that need to be washed
2. Meal Preparation
- Have your child help with washing foods to be prepared
- Washing fruits and vegetables
- Have your child help with cutting foods
- Using a child safe knife or cookie cutters will also help with fine motor skills and bilateral motor coordination
- Have your child help with mixing, pouring, cracking eggs
- Baking cookies, making quiche, and helping with enchiladas are great ways to incorporate mixed textures and exposure to “messy” food
3. Kitchen Scavenger Hunt
- Have your child find foods based on different characteristics: green, crunchy, cold, etc.
- Have your child find the different tools in the kitchen and discuss what they can be used for.
- Click here for a fun kitchen scavenger hunt activity in the kitchen!
Our goal is to introduce new or uncomfortable foods in a calm, non-pressure way by picking them out at the grocery store, putting them away in the pantry, or helping with meal preparation. The more positive interactions a child has with foods, the increased chance that they will be interested in trying them. Please feel free to contact us or speak directly with your therapist about how to use these strategies with your child or how to start to work on new or uncomfortable foods.