By Heidi Miller, MS, CCC-SLP, COM®
Do you have a picky eater at home? If mealtime feels like a constant struggle, please know you are not alone. Recent studies have shown that 50% of toddlers and 25% of older children refuse to eat the majority of what’s on their plates.
When a child has Pediatric Feeding Disorder (PFD), it causes anxiety and stress for the whole family. Kids who won’t eat—or won’t eat much—naturally causes many parents to worry. There’s a general misunderstanding about why their child refuses some foods but embraces others. There is also guilt associated with their child’s inability to participate in the social activity of eating with family and friends.
Before you blame yourself or your child for something that well may be out of their control, please understand that there are many reasons your child may experience PFD, and having a few tricks up your sleeve when they push the plate away can be helpful.
If you find yourself thinking YIKES…my child only eats 5 foods, here are my top 5 easy ways to help your picky eater right now:
- Take the pressure off eating at meal times. Allow your child to decide if or how much they will eat from the foods offered. Even if they sit at the family table and pass you the salad, that’s a WIN!
- Change the foods they currently eat by a little. Make it bigger or smaller, cut it differently, put it on a different plate, anything you can do to change the presentation will help.
- Leave the child to explore without an audience. This is another way to remove the pressure of eating or the reaction the child might get—even unintentionally—from you. Give your child something they can safely eat on their own and give them permission to do so without you being there. For example, you might say something like, “Hey Zoe, I know you like peanut butter. This is a mini banana muffin that has peanut butter in it. I’ll leave it here in case you want to explore it. It feels soft and is easy to chew, the peanut butter is not strong in it, and it’s also spread out so it will not gush in your mouth.”
- Accept the small wins. This is not a race or a sprint. Remember, exploring food in any way is a small victory.
- Work with a feeding therapist. Finding a qualified therapist introduces a trusted third party that knows what works and what doesn’t work. We all know that our children often take advice from or listen to someone who isn’t their parent or family member.
In my years of working with families as a feeding specialist, I’ve culled the current research and developed practical techniques that reflect principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, food chaining, antecedent manipulation, pediatric nutrition, effective feeding practices, and childhood developmental norms.
In my years of working with families as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Feeding Specialist, and Certified Orofacial Myologist, I’ve done the research and put in the work to develop practical techniques that reflect the principles of my practice. I used the knowledge gained to develop the HMS Feeding Protocol so I can not only help improve the quality of life of children who experience PDF, but also help their whole family thrive.
Parents, remember you did not do this to your child, nor is it your fault or your child’s fault. The best thing you can do to help support your child is to determine why your child became this way and help them safely navigate the waters between being a picky eater to becoming a healthy eater.
Heidi Miller MS, CCC-SLP, COM® is a Speech-Language Pathologist, Feeding Specialist, and Certified Orofacial Myologist and founder of Heidi MIller Speech and Associates. She works with children (0-23) and families to improve their speech and feeding skills.