How to Help a Picky Eater by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

How to Help a Picky Eater

Dear Dr. B,

I have a child with sensory sensitivity. To say she is a picky eater is putting it mildly! I know getting her to eat a variety of foods is important for her development, but I don’t know how when she refuses to eat what I put in front of her. I’m hoping you can offer me some suggestions. 

Pursuing Less Picky Alternatives 

Dear Pursuing,

Having a child with sensory sensitivity is a parenting challenge, especially when it comes to textural sensitivity such as with food or clothing. I applaud you for recognizing that variety is important for her development (her growing brain needs a wide variety of different minerals and nutrients!) and for reaching out for support when you don’t have all the answers.

Sometimes children are picky eaters based on texture, other times it’s because of odor, or temperature, or even just the way food looks. See if you can determine what fuels her selectiveness with food.

Remember, we all want to feel in control of our life. This is no different for children. They control very little in their little universe, so frequently they will control what they can: food intake and elimination. Both of which are struggles parents report frequently in my office.

Sometimes offering the same food but at a different temperature will help. So for example, instead of hot scrambled eggs, chopped up hard-boiled eggs will be tolerated.

You might also try experimenting with how you serve the food you desire her to eat. For example, if she won’t eat green foods, you can often slip some in undetected (like chocolate or carob zucchini muffins, or spinach in a fruit smoothy).

Some of my patients refuse to eat meat. Others refuse dairy. Many refuse most vegetables. Unfortunately, in our over-processed culture, we have gotten away from the basics, and have much greater opportunity for our children to sample the more sugary, salty, fatty foods that prior generations rarely ate. The more they have access to those foods, the less their pallet will desire good old fresh food. I’ll never forget the day that my son was exposed to fast-food french fries while on a preschool field trip — it practically undid all the careful planning I had done as a mother to expose him to only healthy options!

If there are certain preferred foods your daughter gravitates to, attempt to give her the most nutritious options within that food set. If she will eat yogurt or drink milk, look for the brands with extra calcium. If she likes bread or crackers, choose whole grain varieties.

Many children just resist change, so even if they like a particular food they may not eat a new brand of that very item. I’d encourage you to continue introducing the new food so that over time, it is no longer new or a change from what she is used to. On that note, if your child is very picky, only work on introducing a few new foods to her pallet at one time. Stick with foods that are the most similar to those she tolerates, and expand from there.

Above all, commit this situation to prayer. God loves and knows your child even better than you do. Seek His guidance and inspiration. Continue to lovingly raise her as the gift she is to you. Take comfort in knowing that as you pursue raising her up, when she is older she will come back to the lessons you’ve taught her.

“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old
they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

To Encourage You as a Parent by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

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