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YUCK! Picky Eaters
March 13, 2015
I got a call a couple of weeks ago for parent coaching that I thought many of you would be interested in. Amanda, called about her 4 year old son Adam’s picky eating. “Sometimes it feels like he only eats 4 foods and all of them are sweat or salty and crunchy and certainly none of them are green”, she lamented. Sound familiar? How can you increase the healthy foods your child is willing to eat?
A good set up: A hungry (but not starving kid) is more likely to try new foods.
Make sure that your child is on a regular eating schedule. Our bodies get used to the times of day that generally eat and we are hungry at those times.
Meals should be spaced apart to ensure that your child is hungry.
Avoid grazing especially with high calorie snack foods. Believe me, I know getting dinner on the table is a challenge! Try to space snacks so that your child is able to wait until you are able to serve dinner.
Understand his likes and dislikes
Make a list of foods your child currently likes: When Amanda and I discussed the foods Adam likes we came up with the following list: milk, fruit juice, anything with chocolate, strawberries, blueberries, chips, veggie sticks, crackers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets. We will use some of these highly preferred foods to increase the chance that Adam will eat the foods he does not like.
What foods won’t your child touch that you wish he would? Amanda’s concern was that Adam was not eating any veggies.
Set some goals- Know what you want to achieve- will your child just need to taste a new food or does he need to eat a portion of it? Set a reasonable and achievable first goal- we can always increase our goals later! However, if we set the bar too high you are not likely to be successful.
Give it a taste
Follow Grandma’s rule: Grandma always says “eat your veggies and then you can have dessert”. She knew best and behavior analysts like me regularly use this concept to get kids to do a whole host of things. This first/ then contingency is particularly effective for eating.
Let your child know what your new expectation is. Explain why healthy eating is important. Your first demands should be set by considering how resistant your child is to trying new foods. You can increase your expectations gradually. Maybe the first time all he needs to do is put it in his mouth but does not need to swallow? Amanda and I decided Adam would FIRST eat 1 “mouse bite” of a vegetable and THEN get one mini M&M. We started with giving Adam the M&M right after the bite but soon he needed to wait until after the meal. Once we set this deal it is important to follow through…no veggies no M&Ms!
Offer some choices: When possible offer your child some choices about the foods he will eat. By offering choices your child will feel more in control and may be more motivated to eat the food he chooses. When we started Adam got to choose between peas, broccoli, and carrots because these were easy for Amanda to keep in the house.
Make it Fun: Give broccoli a haircut, take dino bites out of carrots, cut foods into interesting shapes, or add a dip! All of these distract your child from the fact that he is eating something he does not like.
So how is Adam doing now? Well it has only been a couple of weeks. He is eating 2-3 sticks of celery or carrots each day at lunch. At dinner he eats about 2 tablespoons of peas or cooked carrots. When he finishes his meal and has eaten his veggies he gets 5 mini M&Ms. Adam still does not like broccoli but Amanda is starting to offer it with Ranch dressing and he is willing to take 1 mouse bite for 1 mini M&M.