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From Picky Eater to Brave Taster: Strategies to Improve Food Selectivity

Updated: Mar 2


A picky eater boy refusing food from his mother

Does your child refuse to eat anything other than chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese? If so, you're not alone. Dealing with a picky eater can be challenging for parents, but there's hope.


These seemingly basic yet proven strategies can help improve food selectivity in children, transforming them from picky eaters into more adventurous foodies. If you're ready to expand your child's palate and encourage them to try new and nutritious foods, keep reading for our expert tips and tricks.


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Common Reasons for Picky Eater Food Selectivity


One of the main reasons why kids become picky eaters is their natural instinct to assert their independence. As they grow older, they want to have more control over their choices, and what better way to do that than by refusing to eat certain foods? It's their way of showing that they have a say in what goes into their little bodies. So, next time your child gives you a hard time at the dinner table, remember that it's a part of their development.


Another reason for picky eating in kids can be sensory issues. Some children are more sensitive to certain tastes, textures, and smells than others. They might find certain foods overwhelming or unpleasant to their senses, leading them to reject them altogether. It's important to be patient and understanding with these kids, as forcing them to eat something they find repulsive can create a negative association with food. It's important to recognize that picky eating is not always a result of deliberate defiance, but rather a genuine response to perceived threats.



Strategies to Expand a Picky Eater's Diet


While it can be really challenging (I know, I raised two picky boys), there are strategies that can help expand a picky eater's diet and encourage them to try new foods. One effective approach is gradual exposure. Start by introducing small amounts of new foods alongside your child's familiar favorites. This allows your picky eater to become more comfortable with the new food without feeling overwhelmed. Another strategy is to involve your child in meal planning and preparation. When kids have a sense of ownership over their food choices, they are more likely to be open to trying new things. It's also so important to make mealtimes positive and relaxed, avoiding pressure or punishment. Remember, small steps and patience are key when introducing new foods to a picky eater.


Overcoming Challenges Faced by Extremely Picky Eaters


For some kids, picky eating can reach extreme levels, severely limiting their diet and causing significant distress. In these cases, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Occupational therapists and feeding specialists can provide valuable guidance and support in overcoming the challenges faced by extremely picky eaters. They can help identify underlying factors that may be contributing to the selective eating and develop customized strategies to expand your child's diet. Remember, there is no shame in seeking professional support when it comes to the well-being and nutrition of your loved ones.


A little girl eating from a bowl with a spoon

The Role of Parents and Caregivers in Improving Food Selectivity


As parents and caregivers, we play a key role in improving food selectivity for our kids. It's important to strive to create a positive and supportive environment around mealtimes. Encourage your picky eater to explore new foods without pressure or coercion. Be a role model by showing enthusiasm for a variety of foods and flavors in your own diet. Make mealtimes a social experience by involving the whole family and enjoying meals together, regardless of your child's selective eating behavior. Remember, patience and persistence are key. It may take time for your picky eater to embrace new foods, but with your support and consistency, they can develop a more adventurous palate.


Seeking Professional Help for Picky Eaters


If your picky eater's selective eating habits are causing significant challenges or interfering with their overall health and well-being, you may want to consult with your child's pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist. They can help assess your child's nutritional needs and provide guidance on how to address the selective eating habits. As mentioned, occupational therapists and feeding specialists can offer valuable insights and therapeutic interventions to support your picky eater's journey towards a more varied diet.


Resources and Books for Picky Eaters and Families


There are numerous resources available to help parents and caregivers navigate the challenges of picky eating. Here are some favorite recommended books that provide practical strategies and insights for improving food selectivity and expanding the diet of picky eaters:


Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin




Wrapping Up


Picky eating can be so challenging for parents and caregivers. But, there are ways to help our kids overcome their natural instinct to reject certain foods, and to adopt a healthier, more varied diet. One effective way to help with picky eating is by gradually exposing children to new foods. This provides them with an opportunity to become more comfortable with the new foods without feeling overwhelmed. Remember to use kid-friendly language when it comes to helping your selective eater expand their palate. Check out our post: Using Kid-Friendly Language to Help Your Picky Eater Try New Foods.


Also, it's important to involve your child in meal planning and preparation. When children have a sense of ownership over their food choices, they are more likely to be open to trying new things. To keep picky eating at bay, make mealtimes positive and relaxed, avoiding pressure or punishment. Remember, small steps and patience are key when introducing new foods to a picky eater.

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All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.

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