How Can Parents Combat Picky Eating?
J Julia DeNey

How Can Parents Combat Picky Eating?

Mar 13, 2024

Picky eating is a common challenge many parents face, often leading to mealtime battles and concerns over nutritional deficiencies. However, understanding and addressing the root causes of picky eating can transform these challenges into opportunities for growth and development. To learn more, we chatted with pediatric occupational therapist and feeding specialist, Brenda Chilstrom, OTR/L of That Makes Sense OT. Here is what she had to say.

Look for the Reason Behind Behaviors

Remember, behaviors, including picky eating, are often symptoms of underlying issues. Before attempting to change a behavior, it's crucial to understand its cause. For instance, if a child is throwing food, consider whether the meal presentation might be overwhelming or if strong smells are causing discomfort. Identifying the root cause allows for more effective and compassionate solutions.

Preventative Measures

Preventing picky eating starts with creating a calm and organized environment around meal times. Children thrive on routine and predictability, especially when the rest of their world feels chaotic. By ensuring meals are a time for calmness and connection, parents can help reduce the likelihood of picky eating behaviors developing. Offering a variety of foods in a stress-free environment encourages children to explore new tastes without pressure.

Addressing Motor Skills

Sometimes, picky eating behaviors stem from motor skill challenges rather than food preferences. A child struggling to pick up slippery foods like strawberries may appear to be picky, but they're actually facing a physical hurdle. In such cases, focusing on improving fine motor skills can be more beneficial than directly addressing the eating behavior.

The Importance of a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive and understanding mealtime environment is essential. This means avoiding power struggles and offering comfort and predictability during meals. Chaos and stress around eating can exacerbate picky eating behaviors, making it essential to focus on making mealtime a positive experience.

When Picky Eating Signals Deeper Issues

In some cases, persistent picky eating can evolve into more serious conditions such as Pediatric Feeding Disorder or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). These conditions involve more than just food preferences and may require a comprehensive approach that includes mental health support, sensory integration therapy, and nutritional guidance.

Combatting Picky Eating with Compassion and Understanding

Ultimately, addressing picky eating is about more than just getting children to eat a wider variety of foods. It's about understanding their needs, respecting their sensory experiences, and providing them with the skills and support they need to enjoy eating. By focusing on the reasons behind picky eating behaviors and creating a supportive mealtime environment, parents can help their children develop a healthier relationship with food.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Patience, persistence, and a willingness to seek professional help when necessary are key to successfully navigating the picky eating phase.

About Brenda Chilstrom, OTR/L

Brenda Chilstrom is a seasoned pediatric occupational therapist with over 30 years of experience, specializing in sensory and feeding challenges. After working in various settings, including schools, early intervention, and specialized centers, she founded her own business, That Makes Sense OT, in 2007 to provide focused support to children in need. Brenda's commitment to her specialty is underscored by her continuous education in feeding and sensory integration. Now based in Naples, she offers private practice services to preschools and homes, aiming to enhance community awareness about sensory needs and promote independence and well-being in children. She also does online coaching for feeding and sensory processing. Brenda is also an advocate for using supportive tools, such as compression vests, to aid children's sensory integration, helping them to feel more grounded and secure. Her work is dedicated to ensuring every child can thrive in their environment.

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