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Fussy Eaters

By Aimee York

Practical Tips to Help your Fussy Eater

Children who have food sensitivities may be defensive towards the taste, texture, smell, colour or even shape of the food. It is important to be patient and have strategies in place to ensure meal time is fun and stress-free.

When practicing introducing new foods, consider the use of a ‘learning plate’, where the new food is available to explore without any pressure. The food is on a separate plate, simply presented and not at risk of ‘contaminating’ your child’s other food.

Upon consideration of introducing other foods, do not introduce foods that are completely new. This means that if your child has never seen a green vegetable in their life, do not put a large piece of broccoli on their plate. You need to work on the concept of STRETCHING what they are already familiar with, instead of completely shocking the system. An example of this could be:

Your child loves sultanas, but will gag at the thought of eating any kind of fresh fruit. Instead of introducing banana or orange, consider working slowly up to grapes – which are related to the sultanas that they already like.

Children with sensory processing challenges often are considered ‘fussy eaters’, as any oral input is sensory input. An Occupational Therapist can help you determine if there are sensory processing challenges associated with your child’s fussy eating. Here are some practical tips to help your fussy eater:

 Keep a Food Diary 

Like any sensory processing issue, your child’s reactions to input can change daily or even hourly. This is often dependent on context. Ask yourself: is my child tired/sick/in pain? Keep a journal of your child’s food fussiness and try to make connections between the context and the taste sensitivities.

Educate Yourself on how senses connect 

Many of our senses are interconnected; taste and smell especially. Taste buds identify salty, sour, sweet and bitter. Smell provides the more complex layers of identify flavours. Keep this in mind when introducing new tastes.

Use a Graded Approach  

Like any new experience, it is important to encourage exposure gradually. Try the following steps to introducing new foods:

  • Look: what does it look like? Is it smooth or bumpy? What colour is it?
  • Touch: what does it feel like? Is it sticky or dry?
  • Smell: what does it smell like? Sweet or sour? Or perhaps no smell?
  • Sound: what does it sound like? Crunchy and crackly? Or a bit squishy?
  • Taste – lick: put the food in your mouth, and you allow to spit it out
  • Taste – swallow: try eating a bit of the new food

Don’t rush this process! You can use a star chart to show progress moving up the graded approach.

It’s all about Presentation 

Try to present foods in different ways and in different textures. If your child dislikes cooked carrot, try it raw and crunchy. If your child dislikes boiled egg, try fried. If you child dislikes eating a banana, try it in a smoothie.

Make it fun! 

Don’t be afraid to play with your food. If your child is fussy and you are concerned about their nutrition levels, please see your doctor. However, if your child simply can’t sit still long enough to eat, encourage movement breaks between mouthfuls. Use a visual timer to bring your child back to the table.

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Aimee York is the Director and the Principal Occupational Therapist of KinderCloud online allied health services for children. Aimee has a special interest in working with children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. As the Founder and director of KinderCloud, she is passionate about improving access to allied health services around Australia. KinderCloud provides OT for children and families via Skype. If you have any further questions about fussy eaters and how occupational therapy can help, call KinderCloud on 0409 279 728 today or email info@kindercloud.com.au.

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