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How Can I Get My Picky Eater to Eat More Foods? Tips for Picky Eaters and Food Chaining

It can be very stressful if your child is a picky eater. You might be worried that you child is not getting enough nutrition, maybe meals are turning into fights, or your pediatrician has raised some concerns. Picky eating is a common issue among little--and not so little--children. Here are some tips you can use for your picky eater.


child covering her mouth with her arms

Food Chaining: What is it?


Food chaining is a strategy that is used to help people expand their array of accepted foods. The strategy of food chaining was developed by two speech and language pathologists to help selective eaters eat more foods.


In food chaining, a child is offered successive versions of a food, each one slightly different than the prior. The foods can differ in characteristics of shape, color, size, scent, taste, texture, mouthfeel, and temperature.


Although food chaining was originally developed for exceedingly selective eaters, the ideas behind it can also be used for your average picky eater. Here are some examples of how to use food chaining to help your picky eater eat more foods.


Tips for Picky Eaters: Food Chaining Examples With Common Accepted Foods


There is a theme among many of the foods picky eaters will eat. Plain carbohydrates are a commonly accepted foods. Below are examples of foods that picky eaters often do eat and ideas of how to use food chaining to expand their accepted foods.


Instant Ramen Noodle Soup

  • The instant noodle soup cups come with a few dehydrated peas, carrots, and corn. Try adding frozen peas, carrots, and corn to up the vegetable content of this meal.

  • Check out other grains that instant ramen noodle soups are made with. Try buckwheat noodles, rice noodles, and millet noodles. Prepare the soup with the flavor packet from your child's preferred ramen.

Pizza

  • Try homemade pizza with using a partial whole wheat crust. Going completely whole wheat in one step might be too different of an appearance or taste at first. Continue with the toppings your child prefers.

  • Consider adding finely cut vegetables on top of their favorite frozen pizza before reheating. Try onion, mushrooms, or bell peppers. If you make homemade pizza, add the finely diced vegetables to the tomato sauce to keep the pizza's appearance familiar.

Crackers

  • Look for another cracker that is the same shape and size. Although the taste is not going to be the same, some of the other sensory characteristics will remain familiar.

  • Make cracker sandwiches with a thin spread of peanut butter, cream cheese, or hummus.

Plain Pasta

  • Add a drizzle of olive oil to change the mouthfeel and flavor slightly without changing the appearance too much.

  • Adding small amounts of spices, seasonings, and herbs to plain pasta is a good way to familiarize your child with new flavors in a familiar food. You can try parsley, onion powder, or thyme. You can also try an infused oil such as garlic infused oil or lemon infused oil.

Vanilla Yogurt

  • Try a Greek vanilla yogurt instead of regular vanilla yogurt. This changes the texture slightly, but the flavor will still remain familiar.

  • Blend fruit such as mango, peach, or banana to mix into the yogurt. These light colored fruits will change the color less than other fruits, keeping the visual as familiar as possible.


"But This Won't Work For My Child!" More Tips for Picky Eaters


You're right, I can't promise it will work for you and your child. But it works for way more than originally expect it to work! Here are a few more tips to help you out.

  • Persist in offering the new food. No need to cajole or force, but offer the food frequently. For some kids it can take weeks or months until a food is accepted, so keep on at it.

  • It is important to model eating the food. Sit down with your child when you place the food in front of them and have a portion yourself.

  • Allowing your child to interact with the food in other ways than eating it can also engender familiarity with it.

  • Ask them to pass the food to you or place it directly in their hand so they touch it.

  • Some kids will want to stick their fingers in a food and get super comfortable with the texture before they try it.

  • Show them that they can lift the food to their nose to smell the food.

Getting Your Picky Eater to Eat New Foods


Remember, you are in this for the long haul. Keep your patience, positive attitude, and expectation that eventually your child will eat more foods. Use these tips for picky eaters as a starting point. Also, remember that you can reach out to feeding specialists including an occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, psychologist, or registered dietitian for help.

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