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How to Help a Picky Eater

How to Help a Picky Eater

Is your child a picky eater? Is he on the “white diet” of pasta and bread? Many children can be picky eaters. Those with sensory issues and autism often find eating a challenge. They can also make it a challenge for you when they refuse to eat healthy foods. If your child has sensory integration disorder or autism, he may react negatively to the way some foods smell, look, or taste. Children with anxiety around food can also find branching out to new foods to be a scary and traumatic experience. 

Our expert occupational therapists at Little Wonders Pediatric Therapy are trained in techniques to help your child eat more of the nutritious foods his body needs. Don’t let mealtime become a battle. Following are tips on how to help your picky eater expand his repertoire of foods

Rule out physical causes

Make sure your child doesn’t have gastrointestinal issues that make eating a painful experience. Ensure doctor and dental checkups have ruled out physical causes for refusing to eat many foods.

Reduce mealtime anxiety

Children with sensory issues or autism often experience anxiety when seeing foods. They may shy away from or refuse to eat foods of a certain color or texture. If your child choked on a food in the past, or if you’re introducing a new food, he may refuse to eat it. 

Before you sit down to eat, engage your child in anxiety-reducing techniques that you know will work with him, whether it’s a series of ten long, deep breaths or another method. 

Don’t punish or pressure your child when he doesn’t eat healthy foods. Instead, talk with your child about his fears of certain foods; it validates his feelings and makes him feel accepted. 


Desensitization techniques, taken slowly, can change your child’s eating pattern. For example, if he exhibits fear of a particular food, include it on the table, set a timer, and ask him to just look at the food until the timer rings. Once he can do that, the next step might be touching the food with a utensil first, and then with a finger. Make it into a silly game where you each touch the food for 20 seconds. Then proceed to touch the food with your tongue. Taking these slow steps can help your child overcome his fear and anxiety about that food. 

You could also have a “food of the week” when introducing a new food. The first day, he looks at it for a certain amount of time; the next day, he touches the food, and so on until he takes a bite and then several bites. You can develop a “food of the week” chart and have him check off what he’s done.  

Decrease snacking

Your child may want juice all the time — after all, it’s sweet. Put the three mealtimes on a chart so that your child knows what the routine is. The only food available between those times is designated in a special ‘snack bin’ with more healthy options. Have him drink water when he’s thirsty. 

Place food in containers 

Your child on the spectrum may get used to a certain brand of food and won’t eat any other similar food unless it comes out of that box. You can avoid this issue by placing cereals, breads, and other foods in plain containers. 

Cook and bake with your child 

Cooking with your child is a great way to help desensitize him to various foods. This way, he’s used to seeing the food first and then getting used to handling it. Create fun games with food. Have him make a face on a bowl of yogurt with blueberries and strawberries. Feeling the different textures on his hands helps to acclimate him to that food. 

Your child’s therapist guides you in using various techniques to use at home, and she communicates what techniques she is using when your child is in therapy with her. 

Call or message Little Wonders Pediatric Therapy for a consultation about your picky eater and how we can help. 

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