Picky eater collage

The other week I was excited when I tried out a new recipe – baked ziti!

When I told my kids, their first reactions were worry and dread: “What is it?” “I don’t like it!”

I almost told them, “Are you kidding me? I made dinner!”

But I stopped and realized I was about to break my own rules as a feeding therapist. Let me explain.

We know children thrive on predictability, consistency and routines, but who can live off of chicken nuggets every day? Children can learn to be interested in new foods if we remember some simple tips.

First, feeding is a whole-body experience. Researchers say there are more than 25 steps to eating, from tolerating the food in the room, to seeing it on the plate, touching it and finally chewing and swallowing it. Many children can’t or won’t go to the final step of eating on the first attempt.

I let parents know that this is a journey. They should present new foods up to 13 times before a child can truly say, “That’s not my favorite.” Here are some ways to introduce a new food:

  • Take a preferred food and change it in a small way. This could be changing spaghetti noodles to rotini noodles or lasagna to baked ziti. This helps a child tolerate food changes and increases willingness to try new foods.
  • Offer only one new food at a time. We often see children shut down if they face all-new choices. If your child has a hard time trying new foods and you present a plate of all new foods, this can be overwhelming. If the main dish is new, pair it with two of the child’s favorite side dishes.
  • Offer only a small portion of the new food, such as three pieces of chicken breast versus a big chunk. Again, this reduces the pressure to “eat” it and moves toward “trying” it.

So back to my dinner story:

Ziti is a crazy word, and my kids could not link it to anything they have ever had. So I told them it’s like lasagna except with macaroni noodles. This described the meal but linked it to a favorite dish with the slight difference. I then served a small amount on the plate with two of their favorites, garlic bread and fruit. One of my children loved the baked ziti, and the other thought it was okay. But both tried it!

If feeding is a struggle for you and your family, Encompass is excited to offer “I Have a Picky Eater: Where Do I Start?” from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Monday, April 29, 2013, at Snoqualmie YMCA. Click here to register today.

2009 01-13 Kanzler, Kim1024half-inchKim Kanzler, M.A., CCC-SLP,kim.kanzler@encompassnw.org,  is clinical supervisor and lead speech/language pathologist for Encompass.

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