I’m writing this post with the disclaimer that we still have a ways to go in terms of my son eating non-preferred foods and sealing up his gut lining.
BUT…six months ago, I had a child who literally ate quinoa pasta for dinner every single night. I kid you not. Every night. And who would only eat raw tomatoes and cucumbers in the veggie department, which flared his eczema. And who had eaten meat maybe five times in his life. I used to cry after any kind of nutrition/functional medicine appointment, because I knew he would straight up refuse anything I was told to feed him.
Now he’s expanded his palette to include daily mixed greens salads, chicken, grass fed beef, salmon, carrots, spaghetti squash, green beans, and all kinds of fun things hidden in smoothies. And this week he’s eaten ground beef with shredded carrots, asparagus, and onions. Who is this child??
So here is what we’ve learned from our super smart speech and occupational therapists and from trial and error with a cute little boy who between food sensitivities and sensory pickiness gave (is giving) us a run for our money.
- It’s not going to be perfect. This one was really hard for me, especially because of his many food sensitivities and reactions. Take it one step at a time- sometimes with steps being weeks apart and oftentimes one step forward, two steps back.
- Every small step is a win. Our therapists coached us that when James lets a non-preferred food stay on his plate, that’s a win. He touched it?? Even bigger win. And if he brings it to his mouth, that’s a home run! Usually with enough exposures, we can progress through these stages. Actually eating the non-preferred food might take quite a while, but setting the foundation for him is huge.
- Take the pressure off. The more you can pretend to not care, the better it is. If my little man knows I’m watching him, you bet he will refuse whatever new food is on the plate. I try to engage in conversation, sing songs, or even just walk away and let him do his thing.
- Cut out addicting foods. This was huge for us. Possibly #1. Cutting out artificial and processed foods opened up the door for more natural alternatives. Cutting out grains for James helped his palette open up even more. Once you cut out the foods that the body is addicted to, it makes way for the stuff you really want them to consume!
These past two weeks, we finally cut out homemade yogurt, leaving ghee, which only has trace amounts of casein and lactose, as his only dairy product. Interestingly, he has also been more adventurous at meals than ever before. He would never dare to touch a green bean or any kind of cooked vegetable for three years, and these past couple of weeks, he has started to eat them with little to no hesitation.
- Build on what they know. James loves anything crunchy, so my husband sautéed little shreds of chicken into crunchy pieces using salt and ghee. Once James loved those, we could sauté them less. Then we could transfer the method to beef and eventually salmon. He eats these things easily now, which amazes me when I think just how much he used to despise any kind of meat or fish.
We’ve also recently used this method for shredded pieces of organic carrots, calling them French fries.
- Make smoothies. These are so amazing for sneaking foods. He loved banana and blueberry smoothies (and his body tolerated them), so we started there. We could sneak lots of his supplements in these smoothies and eventually started adding little bits of veggies. I wonder if getting a bit of the taste of mixed greens with the smoothies has now helped him to eat them regularly, with honey, of course 😉
- Let them play with new foods. I’ll never forget his therapists telling me to let him play with new foods. I painfully took this advice when I introduced bone broth to him, but it worked–
He was not happy to see the bowl of broth with some quinoa pasta in front of him (this was before we cut out grains), but since I knew this was a big step, I let him watch some kid music videos to allow him to relax. And then I walked away. Eventually I saw him picking up the noodles and splashing them in the broth, with the commentary, “splish, splash!” I remained in the corner in the fetal position through this process.
But eventually, he started licking his fingers. And then he started to pick up the noodles and eat them. And 10 minutes later, I saw him scooping up the broth with a spoon saying “yummy!” Totally worth the pool of soup on the table.
- Place non-preferred or new foods next to familiar, preferred ones. The familiarity helps take the pressure off.
- Think about your main goals during the meal and the factors that could detract from those. For example, using a fork is still hard and intimidating for James. When I give him a new food, I will put it in a bowl with a spoon or just on a plate for him to explore with his hands. If I want to work on utensils, I will give him a food he is very familiar with and enjoys.
- Play with colors and fun designs. For some kids, it helps to have a non-preferred food next to a preferred that is the same color. Or to have the foods displayed in a fun way!
Parents of picky eaters, what you have found that has worked for you and your child??