Does My Picky Child Need Food Therapy?

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Does My Picky Child Need Food Therapy?

This article is co-written with Emma, a Paediatric Dietitian, and mum of a fussy eater and a baby with allergies, based in the UK.

Around 50% of parents complain that their toddlers are picky eaters. From complaining that food time is like a war zone, struggling to introduce new foods, and worrying about their child’s weight, many factors add up to having a fussy eater in the family. Although some kids may grow out of it over time, food therapy is one route many parents consider to solve this problem.

Let’s discover what situations require food therapy for fussy eaters, to keep your meal times full of smiles, and full bellies.

feeding child

What Is Food Therapy For Kids?

Food or feeding therapy helps your child to eat better. A trained therapist will work with your child every week, for different lengths of time depending on the types of issues your child is facing.

They will use specific techniques, and pieces of technology, to figure out what are the underlying issues, and work to solve them.

Which Kids Need Food Therapy?

Many children can benefit from food therapy. Here are some feeding or developmental problems that could mean your child needs food therapy:

  • Children that struggle with mealtimes, and end up having frequent tantrums
  • Children that have a fear of swallowing
  • Refusing to take new foods
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Disliking new food textures, smells, tastes, or temperatures

Picky Eaters: What Do Experts Recommend?

Emma, a Paediatric Dietitian and an expert on AskHer, says: A picky eater is also described as a fussy, choosy, or faddy eater.

They tend to be reluctant about eating familiar foods and may also have strong preferences about what they wish to eat.

It’s completely normal to worry about your child and if they are getting enough food, plus the right vitamins and minerals for growth.

baby girl unsure

Try not to focus on what your child eats in a single day, but look instead at what they eat over a week.

Most children will eat more than thirty different foods, but if you’re concerned that your child’s eating habits are becoming a serious problem, please contact your health professional.

A fussy eater will generally be able to maintain weight for growth and eat a sufficient variety and volume of foods to meet nutritional requirements.

This does not, however, take away from the stress of mealtimes and the ‘parent guilt’ you feel as you desperately wish for them to eat a healthy meal.

What Are Some Red Flags To Look Out For?

There are some red flags parents can look out for to check whether their child needs food therapy, or whether their child will grow out of it over time.

  • Does your child constantly fight, complain, and have tantrums at mealtime?
  • Do they eat 20 types of food (or less)?
  • Do they choke, gag, or vomit when eating?
  • Do they have an unusual weight gain or loss for their age?
  • Do they struggle to accept new foods, textures, tastes, or smells?
  • Does your child prefer to go hungry, rather than to eat the food they are given?

Ask yourself these questions, and monitor your child’s eating habits over some time to check whether they need food therapy.

Oftentimes, your child may be a fussy eater (ie ticking a few of the boxes above), but they may also grow out of it.

Alternative Strategies You Can Try At Home For Picky Eaters

5 Tactics from Children’s Dietitian, Emma

Here are Emma’s 5 Top Strategies to Make Kids’ Mealtimes Enjoyable:

Thankfully, there are lots of positive steps you can take to achieve happy, healthy mealtimes, and free your family from the stress of fussy eating.

  1. Edible Adventures – Go to a farmers’ market, let kids weigh and price fruit and vegetables, do a blindfolded food challenge and a taste test, eat with chopsticks just for fun, choose a theme night and try a new cuisine
  2. Discover New Foods – It can take up to thirty attempts to like a new food. Try to expose your child to a new food each day. Ask them to help with baking and get messy! Or perhaps cut up some fruit, such as a banana, and let them feed it to you!
  3. Explore a Rainbow of Food Colors – Ask your child to pick their favorite color and visit a supermarket. Encourage them to choose a new food to try in that color. It can be sweet or savory. But remember, there’s no pressure for them to eat that new food on day one. Initially, it’s more about getting them used to the smell, texture, and appearance.
  4. Imaginative Messy Play – Messy Play is fantastic for introducing food in a non-pressured environment. Your child could play with cars in dry pasta and rice, make mountains with flour, or set up a teddy bear’s picnic and add fruit to the teddies’ plates.
  5. Divider Plates and Funky Cutters – It’s worth getting some fun divider plates, as children tend to like the idea of keeping new foods separate from their tried and tested favorites! There are also some great sandwich and vegetable cutters available online. These make food more fun and interesting for kids.

unhappy child

Other Strategies To Try Before Going To Therapy

There are more tactics you can try at home first and avoid going down the therapy route:

  • Giving options – they will feel that they are in control of their eating habits more. Ask ‘do you want 2 or 3 pieces of broccoli?’ meaning their only option is to eat broccoli.
  • Different presentation – you can try and alter the way you present the food to them. Try presenting the food on a plate that splits all the food up into mini sections, and that encourages your child to eat in a certain order.
  • Remove (or introduce) distractions – distracting, or removing the distractions, can be the missing piece of the puzzle. Eating dinner as a family can encourage your child to eat more, as they will be surrounded by other people eating similar foods to them.
  • Don’t beg for a clean plate – allow them to try and leave as much as they wish so long as they try. Next time, they may be inclined to try some more. Promising with a yummy dessert may encourage them to really dig in and finish their food (although don’t overuse this method too much, your child should also try and eat without waiting for ice cream after).

How To Introduce New Foods To A Picky Eater

Introducing new foods to a fussy eater can be challenging. Most parents want their children to be eating extremely healthy by the time they are eating solid foods. But this can be challenging.

Try and introduce one new food to each meal, once a day, in small amounts. Introduce this food in small portions and with no pressure. Allow your child to express how they wish to eat the foods.

Whether it’s in a smoothie, raw, or with a honey dressing (adding sweetness is always a good technique for kids).

Perhaps also try some unique desserts, where you can hide healthy foods in the form of a dessert. Gluten-free desserts for kids are the way to go, as most gluten-free desserts will include bananas and other fruits or oats which they may not want to eat alone.