Picky eating is common in children with developmental delays. In fact, as many as 80% of children with special needs are identified as picky eaters at some point in their development.
Although many children “grow out” of their picky eating phase, there is a large percentage of children that continue to struggle with picky eating later in life. With the right support, most children can expand their diets, grow optimally and develop a good relationship with food and their bodies.
Here are some simple tips that will help your family move towards more pleasant mealtimes.
Cultivate independence and trust your child’s appetite
Determining parent/child feeding roles and responsibilities can help build better structure around mealtime. It also allows children to feel secure and makes mealtime routine more predictable, something children who experience anxiety around eating can benefit from.
In general, parents get to decide what, when and where the child will eat and It is the child’s responsibility to decide how much food he wants to ingest at a given meal. Parents need to respect and trust their children’s hunger and fullness cues. Allowing children to have full control over their meal intake can be very frightening for some parents especially when they are dealing with children who are “underweight”. However, this is a crucial step towards gaining your child’s trust. A piece of broccoli is not worth damaging parent/child relationship. Patience is the key to feeding children!
Offer one to two safe foods per meal
Parents need to take their child’s likes and dislikes into account when serving meals. This doesn’t mean that every single recipe you make has to be your child’s favorite. You can simply add some “safe sides” on the table such as bread, cheese, yogurt or any other side you know your child will be able to consume happily. This way, your child will not be leaving the table hungry. These “safe sides” should be an integral part of the meal that everyone at dinner table has access to consume. Pre-portioning these foods onto your child’s plate makes him feel different and validates the point that he cannot eat like the rest of the family. Hence family style dinners are a great option! If the child doesn’t consume much during meals, rest assure that you can always offer a nutritious snack at a later time.
Make mealtime “family time”
Mealtime should be about having fun in a relaxed environment altogether. Don’t focus too much on what and how much food your child is eating. Mealtimes need to be enjoyable as feeding is not always easy for some children. Many children have anxiety around eating food and increased stress hormones can decrease appetite in some children. No one wants to be pressured to eat, in fact studies suggest that adults who were pressured to eat certain foods in their childhood are less likely to consume those foods later in life!
Get support when needed!
It is important to note that children of all body types can be picky. If your child meets on or more of the following criteria, you may consider getting professional help.
Eats fewer than 20 foods
Refuses to eat foods from certain food groups
Refuses to eat foods from entire categories of texture
Won’t tolerate new foods on their plate and is not willing to touch or taste the food
Cries or throws a tantrum when a new food is offered with a need for sameness and rituals around food and mealtime.
Is not growing his growth curve and has trouble gaining appropriate weight
Is unable to eat age appropriate textures
Is unable to attend social gatherings due to fear of food
By: Naureen Hunani
Naureen is a Montreal-based registered dietitian, feeding therapist and a mom of two! She has been featured on CBC radio, Breakfast Television, Huffington Post Canada and Laval Families Magazine. She takes great pride supporting parents raise healthy and happy children.
Connect with Naureen on Facebook: Naureen Hunani Nutrition