Feeding difficulties may occur in young children with oral motor or behaviour problems. Some children with oral sensitivities may dislike touch around the mouth area and become fussy with the way they are fed. Whatever the reason, you are not alone.
According to the American Dietetic Association, it’s quite normal for kids to go through a fussy eating phrase- it will pass. In fact, there are a variety of reasons why children may become picky with foods.
Some possible explanations include unpleasant experiences, changes in routine, feeling tired or sleepy. New exposures to different textures, smells, temperatures may also be overwhelming for a child (Dodimead, 2008).
Most of us dislike some foods, so let your child develop his or her own preferences. Young children may need as many as 10 to 15 experiences with a new food before it is accepted. Don’t give up too soon!
Recommendations for the picky eater:
• Have a consistent meal schedule and mealtimes should be free from distractions (no TV).
• Cut down on snacks so that your child is more likely to be hungry during mealtimes.
• Refrain from force feeding your child
• You may wish to consult a dietitian or physician to ensure that your child is getting enough nutrition
At meal times:
• Present your child with small portions on a small plate.
• Have your child eat together with the whole family.
• Make food aesthetically appetizing. The better the food looks, the more likely it will be eaten! Try making a face out of a pancake or sandwich (carrot strips for hair, raisins for eyes, cucumber slices for a mouth). Kids love to dip food into sauces, so consider using salad dressings, tomato sauces.
• Play around with textures, temperatures or tastes. Start with familiar foods, such as your child’s favourite puree. Then introduce one new texture dipped or mixed in the puree. For example, you could mix cooked broccoli in mashed potatoes. Picky eaters have to be taught and trained to try new foods so don’t give up.
• Follow your child’s lead and watch for cues. If your child retreats or goes “Uggh”, gently pull away. When he/she moves towards you again, start trying once more. • It is very much like a tango with your child.
• Praise your child for trying new foods and for good behavior. Give specific verbal praise such as, “I heard that crunch”, “You made your tongue work!” with a smile or hand clap.
• Be patient but firm. If they choose not to eat the healthy meal provided, don’t make a big fuss. You could provide a choice, e.g. “Vegetables or fish?”
• At the end of the meal, remove any uneaten food without comment or reaction.
• Allow your child to ‘fail’ a meal to experience the natural consequences of hunger.
• Be a good model! Young children model their behavior on the people around them, including eating. Thus, your children’s food choices may be influenced by you- when, where and how much you eat and drink. If your diet and eating habits are healthy, your child’s will be too.
Other food experiences:
• Food play! Don’t be afraid to create a mess! Cover the table with a mat and let your child enjoy exploring, touching food with his fingers or spoon and self feeding. • You could also engage your child in a game, “Let’s see how many crumbs stick to your mouth!”
• Ask your child to help you prepare food. It helps to keep kids entertained and encourages them to try new things. Have kids wash vegetables, stir ingredients in a bowl or sprinkle garnishing on a dish. Check out http://www.kids-cooking-activities.com/ for fantastic ideas.
• Kissing games work well- Kiss a toy (e.g. peach) then change the toy to a real peach.
• Pretend play activities- Pretend to ‘drink’, ‘feed’ the doll or play ‘cooking’ with your child.
• Feely bag game: Place a whole piece of food inside a clean shopping bag. Ask your child to put their hands in, without looking inside, and tell you something about the contents. E.g. Is it hard or soft? Wet or dry? Hot or cold? Have they ever eaten it? Do they know its name? Once identified, they may like to try some to eat.
The best way to get your child to eat something is to keep persisting. The more exposure they get; the more familiar the food will become and the more likely your child will be to try the new food.
Consider spacing the new food out by a week or more so they don’t feel like they’re being overwhelmed.
Finally, look at the big picture of your child enjoying his or her food, instead of how much food was consumed. You can make eating a delightful experience.
Dodimead, L. (2008). How much is enough? Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Victoria: Australia
Lisa Lim Su Li
Speech Language Pathologist
The Speech Practice Pte Ltd
Singapore Shopping Centre, 190 Clemenceau Ave, #05-28, Singapore 239924