While picky eating is a normal part of childhood, it can be frustrating for parents and caregivers trying to provide a healthful and varied diet to children.

Tips for tackling your picky eater

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While picky eating is a normal part of childhood, it can be frustrating for parents and caregivers trying to provide a healthful and varied diet to children. Picky eaters are very selective about the foods they are willing to eat – this can mean refusing to try new foods or preferring to eat the same foods over and over again. If you have a picky eater, de-stress mealtime by working these strategies into every day.

  • Ensure your child will be hungry at mealtime
    • Sometimes, children who snack in-between meals may not be hungry enough to eat at mealtime
      • Limit snacks in between meals to avoid your child not being hungry at mealtime
      • Offer water to drink in between meals instead of sugary juices or milk
  • Be consistent in mealtime and snack schedules
    • A routine may help a picky eater become accustomed to when food is served and know when it’s time to eat
      • Try to serve meals at consistent times each day
      • Include snack time in the feeding schedule and space out snacks
  • Create a pleasant feeding environment
    • By creating a mealtime environment that is calm, and distraction free, children can focus more on enjoying their meal
      • Mealtime should be at a table, preferably with family, siblings and/or peers
      • Limit distractions such as TV, tablets, and loud noises
  • Give your child opportunities to explore new foods slowly
    • Allow your child to try new foods at their own pace, without pressure
      • Allow your child to touch, smell and taste new foods at their own pace in the beginning
      • Serve small portions of new foods alongside familiar or preferred foods
      • Do not cater to your picky eater’s rigidity in always wanting the same foods and continue to encourage exploration of new foods
  • Foster a positive relationship with food and mealtime
    • Help your child learn more about the food they eat and how it impacts their body
      • Involve your child in grocery shopping and mealtime planning
      • Be creative! Grow veggies in small pots or plan fun cooking activities
      • Set a good example and demonstrate healthy eating habits to your children
  • Try making slight changes to foods your child prefers to enhance the range of foods they will eat
    • By making small modifications to favorite foods, your child may become more comfortable with trying new foods
      • Change the brand of a favorite food to something new
      • Make an adjustment to a favorite food, like introducing a new shape of pasta at dinner

While it is completely normal for children to have favorite foods that they prefer, proper health and nutrition is always the goal with feeding your child. Extreme picky eaters or "problem feeders" do not typically respond to these strategies. Therefore, if you feel your child is an extremely picky eater or problem feeder, they may benefit from a feeding evaluation with a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist who specializes in feeding disorders.

If you feel your child may benefit from a feeding evaluation for a feeding disorder, speak to your pediatrician or call the Sentara Therapy Center at 252-384-4632252-384-4632.

Pamela Pureza is a speech-language pathologist at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center and evaluates and treats children and adults with communication disorders. Pamela also specializes in adult and pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders.