One of the reasons why your child may have picky eating problems is he/she has something called Sensory Processing Disorder. For ease of reading, let us call these kids as sensory kids. Kids who are picky eaters at a very young age tend to remain so as they grow up into adulthood.
Some kids dislike mushy foods such as mashed vegetables, oats porridge, bananas, rice, beans or eggs. Some other kids gag/ attempt to vomit upon the sight of certain foods. Sensory kids have may have trouble with texture, the ability to chew food, low muscle tone in their body, poor posture, heightened experiences to certain smells, tastes, colours and many other factors that contribute to fussy eating.
You may wonder how these factors affect eating. Poor sitting posture as a result of low upper body tone has an impact on eating. Kids with low muscle tone in their mouth, lips and jaw will struggle with chewing textures. If your child cannot track her food with her eyes due to low tone of the eye muscles this will also affect eating. There are many such contributory factors towards picky eating.
Have your child properly assessed by an occupational therapist who specialises in feeding problems. I am sharing my top tips to make mealtimes more fun.
- Get creative with taste, texture and visual presentation: If your child is used to a specific texture of food, say for example she prefers naan or chewy parathas, introduce a texture that is similar to the texture of the food. Examples could be pan fried tofu, pan fried paneer or cheese, while meat eaters could explore with sun dried meat varieties. Try to keep the colour of the food the same as the paratha as in this case. Overcoating the food with masalas can change the colour of the food. Cut the food into interesting pieces such as hearts, triangles and make cartoon characters out of food. Here is how you can dress up a simple pizza into something interesting for the child.
Here is my simple recipe for making bread interesting
Bread slices (whole grain bread is more nutritious than white bread)
Cheese of any kind
Some herbs like basil and oregano
- Cut the bread slices into round shapes to make faces
- Chop some onions into strips to make the eyebrows
- You can chop olives across to create eyes
- Chop tomatoes into strips to make the mouth
- Put the bread on your tawa/ griddle or pan and spread some cheese on top
- Close the tawa with a plate for a few minutes for the cheese to melt
- Once the cheese appears molten, involve your child in decorating the bread pizza man with vegetables and herbs. This also contributes to practising fine motor skills which are essential for feeding.
- Involve your child in creating meal plans and cooking: A child as young as two can help you knead the Chapathi dough, thereby the child gets to explore textures with his/her hands and becomes friends with the food. Getting them to be involved in planning meals gives them a sense of choice and control. Children as young as one can be involved in stirring and making shapes with dough balls.
- Play with food: Get your child to smash mushy vegetables such as tomatoes and bananas and have a good time having some sensory exploration going.
- Have a side plate to keep foods that they don’t like: Keep a side plate on the child’s table for the child to remove things that he/she doesn’t like to eat. This is to avoid the child from throwing or spitting the food on the floor
- For kids with special needs, create a routine : Use a plain white table cloth, white spoons, white plates, minimise visual distractions in the place where they eat and please do not distract the kids with cartoons and screen time. By doing this, you are creating a routine and a habit in the child’s mind about feeding routines.
- Do not force the child to eat foods that he/she doesn’t like: as the child can develop anxiety which can lead him/her to grow into a teen who lives on chips, fizzy drinks and pizza.
- Encourage the child to blow bubbles or whistles of different kinds to strengthen the facial muscle tone.