Tips and Tricks for picky eaters
Before I delve into my reasons behind picky eaters and the tips to consider, you must know that you are not alone. Research has revealed that 1/3 of all parents complain to their pediatricians about their children's picky eating. A picky eater is a child who eats less than 30 foods (and some pickiness is just developmental in nature). A problem eater is a child that eats less than 20 foods, has complete food refusal, a sudden change in their growth rate, phobias or other medical GI concerns that aggravate their desire to eat. Lets look at some of the problems that can be encountered with picky eaters and some solutions.
1. Nutritional Deficiencies
Children with limited food choices and food variety tend to develop nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies lead to a loss of appetite. Most commonly seen are deficiencies in Zinc and Vitamin B1 which lead to impairments in taste and smell sensations. Essentially taking the enjoyment out of eating for these kids.
Tip: Sometimes by simply correcting a nutritional deficiency it will help to alleviate a child's disinterest in food and open up their taste buds to a whole new world.
A great way to get these needed nutrients into these children is through the use of supplements and they can be given in liquid or powder form. Mixing them into frozen grape juice, strained pears, coconut yogurt, apple sauce and even coconut ice creams in desperate situations.
2. Weak Digestive function
Children with autism are more susceptible to GI disturbances such as reflux, gastritis, colic, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and plain old abdominal pain. This can lead to food aversions because your child feels awful after eating. This can become a viscious cycle of aversion leading to more deficiencies and loss of appetite. By addressing these medical issues at once, the problem usually can be solved.
Tip: Using a small amount of digestive enzymes at meal times or an herbal bitter to enhance digestion can alleviate simple abdominal pain and bloating. Also, for more complex cases, a comprehensive digestive stool analysis can get to the bottom of a weak digestive system and provide clues on how to proceed with the healing process.
3. Side effects from drugs
Ritalin and Dexetrin are known to cause a reduction in appetite. Excessive use of antibiotics can cause yeast overgrowth and create carbohydrate cravings and over consumption of breads or starchy foods. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of the drugs and determine if they are doing more harm than good.
4. Extreme food selectivity
Often seen with children on the spectrum is extreme food selectivity. There is usually a pattern to what your child eats, they may gravitate towards sweet, salty or sour foods. They may only eat foods of a certain texture such as smooth or chunky.
Tip: If this is the case only introduce foods of a similar consistency. For example, when introducing cauliflower, puree it, if they only eat smooth or soft textured foods. Try to find the "best sensory fit" for the new food you are about to introduce.
Tips for food introduction
- Be creative and make food fun. Play with your food, paint with pasta sauce or mashed potatoes, use veggies to make silly faces on pizza, use cookie cutters for fun shaped sandwiches. All the while remaining calm and tasting the food with enjoyment as you go.
- When introducing a new food remember not to give up. Your child may refuse the new food 10 times before deciding to keep it in their repertoire.
- Be cognizant of food preferences such as food types, flavors and texture. If your child loves potato chips then begin by slowly introducing root chips and moving towards apple chips or carrot chips. If it's only french fries they eat, then make homemade organic Yukon Gold oven fries and then sweet potato fries and then butternut squash sticks. If they love to smother food in ketchup (make your own) and let them go crazy over all of their food.
- Have a consistent eating environment that is clean and relaxed with little to no distractions. If your child is sensory sensitive then making sure you have a quiet private place to eat is essential to allow them to focus on the task at hand. NO TV, radios or extraneous noise.
- Be consistent. Do not allow grazing, as feeding your child when hungry is best. Have a timer set to go off at dinner so everyone knows the routine. You can even set a timer to inform your child when its time to take the next bite.
- Keep water as the liquid of choice, no juices and wean off of the milk. These extra empty calories may fill them up temporarily and your child may refuse to eat.
- Always ensure good modeling behaviours. It is imperative for the mother and siblings to eat the new foods too! With smiles and lots of praise and support, kids love this.