How to Handle a Picky Eater

Support and a little help if this is your lot.

You get so used to your children’s quirks that you forget how they appear to others. This was driven home for me this week, as the kids and I went away to their grandparents’ house. I know what four foods they eat and what combinations are allowed and disallowed, but when my parents tried to feed them, it didn’t always go well.

So let me offer this caveat: I am absolutely unqualified to tell you how to solve your problems with picky eaters. (Just as I am unqualified to write a “How to potty train your child by age four” column.) I have two superlatively picky eaters. Some of this is my failure as a parent, some of this stems from texture/taste/odor sensitivities that go with Sensory Processing Disorder, and some of this is just the surreality that is childrearing.

If you don’t have a picky eater, or if you are a superior parent to me, then you’ll scoff and simply label me a bad parent. If you do have a picky eater or if your child has texture/taste/odor sensitivities that go with SPD or autism or other special need—I feel your pain. I know you are not a failure; I know you are not lazy; and I know you want it to get better.

The literature will tell you that children have eating preferences and that they will change with age and that children will not allow themselves to starve. You’ve probably heard this from the pediatrician before. What will surprise you is just how long they can oppose you on the food front. It seems to be correlated to how much you want them to change.

You know it's important for them to eat soundly, but there's only so much control that you have here. The Raise Healthy Eaters website breaks this down for you. They have a five-part series that will help you look at this in a new way.

Also, investigate WHAT kind of a picky eater you have. This one looks at picky eaters versus problem eaters. Since meal planning may be another hurdle for the picky eater's family, Raise Healthy Eaters also has a series on meal planning with many menu suggestions.

If you have a child whose food choices may be tied to swallowing or a sensory special need, you have a different kind of problem. It’s a harder one to work with, but one you may not have to work on alone. Occupational Therapy Associates (we use the one in Wakefield) has a group that addresses this. Every week they introduce one food in a social setting and give homework around it. The parents I have spoken to report seeing good changes over time. Slow change, but change nonetheless. Your pediatrician or specialist can make recommendations about similar programs. Insurance coverage will probably depend on your child’s diagnosis.

I’m sorry I don’t have a magic wand or silver bullet. I can offer you this mac and cheese recipe, though. It uses a whole head of cauliflower and passed muster in our house. Just keep trying, parents; just keep trying.


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