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Tips for Picky Eaters and Making Mealtime Enjoyable

By Apricus Health

10th March 2021

With the rush of life, sometimes mealtimes can become just another part of our daily routine to get through. 

Mealtimes involve more than just the food we eat. They are a complete experience that includes all of our senses. 

Try and think back to a time when you had an amazing meal. Perhaps you were surrounded by great company and connecting with others through conversation. Maybe a song you liked was playing in the background. You may have been at home enjoying a meal, or eating at one of your favourite restaurant’s. Can you recall the smells circulating around the air and how lovely the food was presented on your plate? 

Now think of a not so pleasant experience. Maybe a time you were sitting on an uncomfortable chair at the end of a table away from your nearest and dearest. It may have been quite loud and difficult to hear those with you talking. You most likely can’t even remember the taste of the food you ate. 

Whilst keeping these experiences in mind, let’s think of your child’s mealtime environment. 

Here are some top tips our Occupational Therapists have developed to assist in creating an enjoyable mealtime for your family and strategies you can try to assist your child to try new foods: 

Let’s begin by identifying and changing possible ‘triggers’ (cause an individual to have an emotional or physical reaction). 

  • Sensory Stimulation – sensations an individual will receive when one of more senses (e.g. taste, touch, hear) are activated.  
  • Noise and light: consider quieter areas to try new foods to avoid sensory overload.
  • Smells: choose foods with similar smells to that of your child’s favoured foods, or gradually introduce foods with new smells.
  • Touch: choose foods with similar textures to that of your child’s favoured foods (e.g. a child who only likes macaroni could try other pasta before moving on to other textures).
  • Taste: choose or introduce new foods that have similar tastes to that of your child’s favoured foods.  
  • Timing of the situation – judging the appropriate moment in a situation at which to do an activity
  • Mealtimes should be a relaxing and enjoyable event for all involved. It is best to try new foods when both parent and child are not rushed. If mealtimes tend to be usually stressful, with preparation and making children come to sit down, this may not be the ideal time.
  • Task difficulty – the level to which an individual is able to complete and engage in each skill & step involved. 
  • Choices: provide your child with alternative types of foods to eat.
  • Hierarchy of food: instead of asking children to eat large quantities of food, create a hierarchy of difficulty from looking at the food, to smelling it, licking it, chewing a small piece, and then swallowing some. 
  • Interest: use your child’s interest to make food more appealing (e.g. if they like certain animals, make the food look like the animals).
  • Role models: use your child’s role models or friends to model eating new foods (e.g. if your child likes a certain sport, explain how their favourite player eats that food). 
  • Visual supports: encourage your child either verbally or with visual charts that they do not have to eat everything, just look, smell, taste, chew, or swallow a little bit. 

Mealtimes are a lovely time to create memorable experiences as a family. Having enjoyable mealtime moments will assist your child in becoming more adventurous and comfortable with different foods.

If your child continues to have difficulties with exploring a variety of foods, contact an Occupational Therapist. There may be some underlying issues impacting their ability to eat. The Occupational Therapist can assess and determine where the difficulties lie and provide strategies to assist.