Feeding Therapy for Kids – What is Food Therapy, Plus 12 Tips for Picky Eaters

Having a picky eater is stressful, believe me, I know. Although not exactly an extreme problem feeder, my little guy’s selectiveness was initially cause for concern, as it would be for any parent.

Simply going out to eat or visiting a friend can lead to anxiety, not only because you must plan and pack what your kiddo will eat, but also because of the judgment you’ll undoubtedly receive from people who do not understand your fussy eater’s situation.

fussy eater, dislike food, feeding therapy
Source: Bigstock

Thankfully, feeding therapy for kids can help in determining the type of fussy eater you have and the proper strategies to help take the stress out of mealtime while helping them build their confidence around new foods.

Let’s explore what food therapy for kids entails and several solutions to try at home.

Feeding Therapy Explained

Not too long ago, children were simply expected to eat what was given, with no exceptions. However, with the prevalence of food sensitivities (gluten and lactose intolerance), anxiety, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), and allergies, the number of picky and problem feeders has also increased.

Some kiddos need a little extra help learning to eat and integrating new foods into their daily diets.

picky eater, dinner plate, food refusal, food therapy for kids
Source: Bigstock

When feeding your child becomes a real challenge, a speech or occupational therapist can help you determine the type of fussy eater you have. As certified professionals, they can also help your child explore a wider range of foods and build comfort around them.

What to Expect from Feeding Therapy

When seeking help from a feeding therapist, the first thing they’ll do is interview the parent(s) and child to complete a food inventory questionnaire.

They will then make a food therapy plan which will be implemented during therapy sessions. Typically, the caregiver provides 2 preferred foods and 2-3 non-favoured foods.

Parents must provide these foods to avoid allergic reactions and to be consistent with cultural and dietary family preferences. The food therapist will monitor progression and will also introduce techniques that can be tried in their daily routines.

Difference Between a Picky Eater and a Problem (Extreme) Eater

We all know that good nutrition is important, especially for little ones. But how do you ensure your tot is getting all the nutrients, vitamins, and proteins they need when their options are so limited?

Figuring out the type of picky eater you have can help you decide if you need the help of a professional feeding therapist or food therapy for your child.

highly sensitive cild
Source: Bigstock

Picky eaters:

  • Eat 10-15 different (preferred) foods
  • Will eat more if they are hungry
  • Are not missing an entire food group from their diet
  • Can usually be bribed, rewarded, or distracted into eating
  • Slowly add new food to their diet

Problem feeders (extremely picky eaters):

  • Usually refuse to eat, even if they have to starve
  • Have rigid eating habits – no food touching, only particular brands, preferred plate, food cut a certain way
  • Eat less than 10 different foods
  • Missing entire food group(s)
  • Have behavioural reactions – gagging, vomiting, crying, anxiety, avoiding sitting at the table
  • Increased sensitivity to food taste and/or texture
  • Rewards, bribes, and punishments do not work
  • Don’t recognize hunger
  • Lose preferred foods – once enjoyable foods are no longer wanted

12 Picky Eater Solutions to Try at Home

Whether you have a fussy eater or an extreme problem feeder at home, these are some helpful techniques you can try at home.

1. Model Eating New Foods – Let your tot see you eating new foods regularly and describe them with your senses. When introducing a new food item, you try it first to show them there’s nothing to fear.

2. Make Their Plate Visually AppealingWho doesn’t like a beautiful, colourful-looking plate? Make funny faces using healthy foods. Get your kiddo excited, or at least curious about eating something new by using a range of different colours. Think of a rainbow when introducing new foods to keep things fun and interesting.

Weet-Bix recipes
Source: Supplied

3. Give Food Choices – When introducing new foods, give your kiddo a couple of options. Let them pick what they want to try. It gives them a feeling of control and they still get to try something new.

4 Use the Five Senses – While you eat, describe new foods using the senses. If your tot is not ready to eat the new item yet, let them touch it, kiss it, and/or smell it. Ask them to describe it and compare it to something else they’ve already tried before.

5. Serve New Foods with Familiar FoodsNew foods can cause anxiety. Offering small portions of 1-2 new foods with foods they enjoy can diminish the stress of facing something new and strange.

6. Do Not Demand a Clean PlateForcing your child to eat everything on their plate can backfire since forcing them to eat when they’re full can lead them to ignore their internal signals. Allow your child to figure out when they are satisfied. I know the fear of your child not eating enough at mealtime. However, pressing them to eat will only lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

7. Eat as a Family – Spending time together as a family can build a positive experience around food for everyone. If your tot gets used to eating alone, they may develop negative feelings around mealtime and feel singled out.

8. Avoid Distractions During Mealtimes Turn off the TV and remove phones, books, and toys as you dine together. Not only will you model mindfulness, but you’ll be able to enjoy each other’s company, and talk about food.

9. Try Variations of the Same FoodOffer foods in different states – raw and cooked, at different temperatures – frozen, hot, room temperature, and textures – smooth, lumpy, ground, chopped, or crispy/crunchy. It will allow them to learn about food in its different forms.

10. Let Them Help with Meal PrepThey can help wash and sort produce. As they do so, talk about the items using your senses.

11. Let Them Get MessyYour little one can explore foods and their textures by getting messy during mealtime. Don’t bother cleaning them as they eat. Simply let them enjoy themselves as they build familiarity and tolerance by experiencing foods in their own way.

fussy eating
Source: Bigstock

12. Use Positive Language Around Food – Most important of all, be calm and don’t become emotional as you face the challenges of a picky eater. Be patient and speak positively about food.  Avoid labelling foods as “disgusting” or “gross”.

When dealing with a picky eater, one of the most important things to remember as a parent is that it is not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.

I struggled with this as a learned of my son’s food texture aversion. I thought I must have done something to cause this. Guilt and shame will not help you here.

You must also understand that your tot is not being naughty or trying to misbehave by not eating what they are given.

They’re simply letting you know eating is not an easy skill for them. In extreme cases, children would rather not eat than go through the painful experience of eating. But don’t despair, most children do grow out of this.

What to read next

For a twice weekly dose of Mum Central, subscribe to our newsletter here.

Avatar of Gloria Ramirez

Gloria Ruby Ramirez is a writer, mother, and lover of coffee, twinkle lights, and rain who believes in the magical power of words. She is passionate about parenting, mental health, and the environment. She is a former agricultural microbiologist/plant pathologist with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Arizona State University. Born in the desert of northern Mexico, she is mum to her beautifully energetic son and Shih Tzu, Gerty. When not writing, Gloria can be found spending time with her son and family, reading, or embroidering.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar of Blossom

    We forget that some children genuinely don’t like some food the same as we do. Children can get overwhelmed if you put too much food in front of them. They may not need as much food on their plate as is shown in one of the photos. If toddlers are angry about something some can react the same as some adults do. They may not be advanced enough to explain their

Write A Comment