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When Your Child’s Not Eating Well, Here’s What You Should Do

Figure out why your kid’s resisting food.

If your kid is not eating enough, the first thing you should do is figure out whether he is a picky eater or a problem feeder.

Picky eaters are kids who don’t eat as many food types as other children, but often reluctantly touch or taste new food to see what it’s like.

Problem feeders, on the other hand, have a food range of less than 20 and will often have issues when introduced to new food.

Picky eaters can be treated at home, while problem feeders need sequential oral sensory (SOS) treatment from a professional pediatric therapist.

How to Figure Out Whether Your Child Is A Picky Eater Or A Problem Feeder

To figure out whether your child is a problem feeder, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Does my child eat less than 20 foods?
  2. If my child gets “burned out” on a food and takes a break from it, does he refuse that food even after the break?
  3. Does my child almost always eat different foods than the rest of the family?

If you answered “yes” to all three questions, your child may be a problem feeder.

In this case, you should ask your child’s pediatrician to give you a referral for an evaluation to determine whether your child needs feeding therapy.

If your child does need feeding therapy, chances are he will be treated with the SOS feeding approach — which is a systematic approach to treat both the sensory processing and oral motor skills required to eat a wide variety of food groups and textures.

On the other hand, if you answered “no” to any of the three questions, your child is only a picky eater — an issue that can most likely be resolved at home.

6 Tips to Deal With Picky Eaters At Home

Here are 6 tips to deal with picky eaters at home and make mealtime less stressful for everyone:

1. Be Fun and Creative

Not all children like the same foods. So instead of giving your child only one choice, offer him a wide variety of foods of different shapes and colors to see what he likes.

2. Offer Something Fun to Dip In

Give your kid something fun to dip their food in. Some fun and tasty dips are hummus, nut butters or chocolate hazelnut spread, and ranch salad dressing.

3. Use the Five Senses

Seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, and hearing the sound of crunchier foods can help your child enjoy eating. So whenever you’re eating with your child, talk about these five senses.

4. Cut Food In Different Shapes

Ask your child what shapes he likes, and then, if possible, cut the food in that shape. For instance, when you’re giving him a sandwich, ask him whether he wants it in squares or triangles.

5. Try and Try Again

If your child refuses to eat something that you want him to, offer it again another day. Don’t give up. It often takes several tries for a kid to determine whether he actually likes a food. 

6. Don’t Punish

Never force your child to eat something that he doesn’t want to and don’t make him sit for long periods until he has finished his meal.

3 Techniques to Encourage Eating At Home

The following three techniques can turn any picky eater into a foodie.

1. Play with the Food

It may be messy, but it works.

Encourage your child to play with his food because doing so will allow him to explore food without the pressure to eat.

Here are some fun ideas to play with food:

  • Is one box of spaghetti too much, but half a box not enough for your family? If that sounds like you, then the next time you have leftover, let your kids paint with it.
  • Use mini-marshmallows, pretzel sticks, and uncooked spaghetti noodles to help your kids make bridges, towers, sculptures, and more.
  • Give your child some toys to interact with their food. For instance, they can use trucks to drive through icing roads or pudding muds, and dinosaurs to stomp and crunch over Cheerios.

2. Involve Your Child In the Experience

Even if your child is not eating, have him sit with the family during dinner.

He can still participate by passing a bowl of soup to a sibling, helping you set the dishes, or just enjoying being at the table with his family.

When you’re eating, encourage everyone to talk about what they like about their food. Talk about whether their food is spicy, sweet, soft, smooth, or crunchy.

Doing so will teach your child the words to talk about what he does and does not like.

There are many more ways to help your child become comfortable around food that don’t involve eating. For instance, here are 3 more:

  1. Encourage your child to participate in preparing a snack or dinner for the family. He can do some simple tasks, such as stirring a pot, pouring a cup of milk, or washing an apple.
  2. Take your child food shopping. He can help count the apples as he puts them in the bag and pick out anything that he likes, such as a new colorful cereal or chocolate cookies.
  3. Let him have a food fight with his siblings or friends. It will be messy, but it’s one of the best ways to help your child be comfortable around food.

3. Avoid the Food Fight

Did you give your child some food and he spit it out, pushed it off the table, or threw it off the high chair tray? Don’t worry. That happens to every parent.

Avoid punishing your child for refusing to eat something. Instead, give him a lot of choices and let him decide how much he is comfortable eating.

Doing that will let your child know there’s no pressure on him. It will show him that he can decide what and how much he wants to eat, which will make him more comfortable around food.

If you’re considering professional help, get in touch with our team of occupational pediatric therapists who can answer any question you may have.

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