Tag Archives: Picky Eating

Stop the mealtime get-ups!

Why it has taken me so long to figure this out, I HAVE NO IDEA.  We have a lot of kids, which means there are many requests and many voices at the dinner table. In fact, sometimes I’m so sound sensory overloaded at the end of the day I have to turn off the background music.

I generally love family style serving but things have to run differently when I’m solo.  Even with helper hands, it just takes too many trips to the table to bring each serving dish, plates & utensils, and drinks for everyone.  Inevitably, just as I sit down to join the family and take my first bite, I hear “Mama, I don’t have a drink. Can I have some water please”….. this is a cascade and the others come up with their own requests. Let’s just put a disclaimer out there:  I am an OT and I preach independence.  My kids are pretty independent and very capable of getting their own water.  There are also frequent spills. I know spilling is part of the learning process but realistically, when I’m outnumbered 4:1 and I know I have to get them all to bed on my own, I JUST CAN’T HANDLE A PREVENTABLE SPILL.  I haven’t even mentioned fitting in home reading, piano practice, nor finding the elusive overdue library book, signing agendas, and filling out forms that they forgot to give me 3 days prior and now they are due tomorrow.

SO, I’ve started leaving a pitcher of water on the table, along with glasses next to it.  And it’s worked! My apologies if this is common knowledge – I’m just a little slow to the party.



New plan for solo dinners:

  1. Plate kid dishes in the kitchen and each kid brings their own plate to the table.
  2. Permanent water pitcher on the table with glasses next to it.
  3. Little vase with a bunch of forks permanently at the table.

Already, this has prevented at least 3 get-ups for me during dinner.  Refills are right there and the kids can do it themselves with less likelihood of spills.   Win-win-win!

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The worst thing you can do for a picky eater

Time after time, I’ve seen parents respond to a child’s resistance to eat by nagging, cajoling, threatening or bribing with dessert.  And, next, out comes the big ol’ TIME OUT.  The child is hauled away from the table and plopped into a time out while the parent returns to the table and ignores the child.   No matter the setting or number of times I see it happen, I want to squirm out of my skin.


Time out’s are a common topic of conversation in parenting circles.   Historically, parenting advice has moved from Watson’s cautions against sharing emotion with children to Bolwby’s advice to consistently respond in a sensitive way.  We’ve moved to a general acceptance of the spectrum of attachment-based parenting and positive discipline.  To confuse us further, our feeds are also filled with articles warning against helicopter parenting, permissive parenting and the “collapse” of parenting all together.   Whether or not you use time outs, be aware that your general parenting style, and fears, greatly impact the type of environment you create at the table.  Because it has a ubiquitous impact on family life, it is worth spending time reflecting on your parenting style and any changes you’d like to make.

Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute has a wonderful analogy illustrating time outs.  She describes a basketball coach calling a time out for a team playing poorly.  The coach simply pulls the team off the court, waits the prescribed time, says “are you ready to play yet?”, then puts the team back on the court.  How in the world is the team supposed to improve performance as a result of a “time out”?  The players were able to rest but they did not receive any constructive feedback on how to improve…. without the actual coaching part, it is very likely the time out only served to make the players feel worse about themselves.

I’d go as far as suggesting that in any scenario, time outs are useless without coaching.

Time outs at dinner time ARE THE SAME THING.  Without coaching and mealtime skill development, time away from the table on it’s own, will not improve your child’s mealtime behaviour.  Your child will simply learn that the behavior garners loads of attention and gets you out of her face.

Another thing to remember:  an increase in stress and cortisol levels will knock out any appetite your child may have had.  Stressful mealtimes = kids who don’t feel hungry!  What a vicious cycle.

Time outs are tempting because they may get your kid to take a couple of bites.  It’s the same reason that parents force feed a bottle to a baby who is cuing “NO”….. the sole focus is on the intake at that moment.  We need to think beyond the immediate caloric intake and set the stage for a healthy relationship with food.

Do a little self-reflection.  Are you giving your child a time out from dinner because you need a break? Are you at the end of your rope after a rough day of tantrums or a long day at work with adults that may as well have been tantruming?  Are you doing it because it’s what your parents did?

Eating is a learned process.

You are a food coach and your job is to teach your child how to eat, not punish them for not eating.

Things you can try instead of a time-out:

  • talk about appropriate mealtime behaviours away from the table, outside of a snack or mealtime.
  • set simple table rules such as:
    • we all sit at the table together
    • there will be one thing you like at each meal
    • outside of snack and mealtime the kitchen is closed
    • you are expected to interact with the food in some way even if it is to smell, touch or lick it
    • use polite requests and refusals (we don’t say “yucky”, we say “no thanks”)
  • division of responsibility  (you get to decide what food you offer, where and when you offer it while your child decides what to eat and how much)

If you are at the stage where you are using time-outs as a primary strategy, it’s time to seek out help.  Check out picky eating courses available through the health region or privately.  Contact me and I can help you find the best resource for your situation.



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Mama’s Helper : The HAPPY MAT

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Wow!  Am I ever impressed with this product!  In my experience, suction bowls have been a total and complete waste of my money.  They work for 3.5 seconds before the suction releases and bowl is victoriously tossed to the floor, or simply as far as possible.  I am a firm believer in touching food and making a big ol’ mess to learn how to eat sometimes the disaster is just a little much.  The game of “I toss and Mama picks up” also gets old really, really quickly.

This little number is a placemat and a dish all in one!  The suction is unbelievable.  The only way my little one has figured out how to move it, is to peel up one of the corners.  Otherwise, it has stayed in place FOR THE ENTIRE MEAL.  ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS!!!

Pros: great suction, comes in a divided plate version or bowl version, easily fits in the dishwasher and is big so it catches a lot of mess.

Cons: Cost. It is expensive.  It may not fit on the tray of a highchair because it is meant to be used at a table.  Takes ++ surface area to store flat.  It’s big.

Available at West Coast Kids for $29.99.  The bowl version is $23.99.

Let me know what you think if you try it.

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Catch yourself!

How many times do you say “take another bite” or “eat three bites of your carrot before your pasta” during a supper????  Get your partner to check on you and actually count how many times you make suggestions on how much your child should eat.

My therapy sessions always involve a snack or mealtime.  More often than not, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with the jackhammer nature of parent commenting at the table.  I was completing an initial assessment last week and brought out a food that was new to the child.  I simply placed it on the table without a word.  Before I had the chance to open my mouth, the mom suggested ” ______, eat the cracker”.  It was quickly followed by “do you want to try the cracker?”  And then “why don’t you take a bite of the cracker?”.  All in the span of literally 10 seconds.

I respectfully asked her to leave the cracker alone and we moved to a different topic.  Later, I put the cracker to my mouth and said “I wonder if this will make a loud crunch?” I popped the cracker in my mouth and without skipping a beat, the little boy did the same. Now, I know that I was a novel person, NOT the mom and likely that helped my cause.  At the same time, not once did I suggest that the child HAD to eat it. Now don’t get me wrong!  I know it is not always this easy and just because the child followed my lead the first time it doesn’t mean this is a new food in his repertoire.  I still see it as a success because it is a step closer to accepting the food.  He learned a lot about the food and even if he didn’t like it, maybe next time we can add something to it to make it more enjoyable (i.e. spread hummus on it or dip it in soup to make it less crunchy if the crunch turned him off).

force feeding

Think about your language during mealtime and how you can decrease the number of times you direct your child’s eating.   There are certainly going to be times when you ask if they want to take a bite.  Just be aware of how frequently you are doing it and back off if it is more than a couple times in a meal.

Talk about:

  • where the food grows
  • the temperature of the food
  • the sound the food makes in your mouth
  • how the food feels
  • what the food looks like

Food for thought.  We last talked about this in my picky eating series.

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Yuck – the experience of a picky eater

We were on holiday in Mexico a few weeks ago, and I had to rely on very rusty, rudimentary Spanish to navigate the grocery store.   Add on three little humans who had travelled all day and were at the end of their ropes.  And it was hot.  Usually, I get nerdy about exploring grocery stores in new countries but this time it was a grab- and- go mission.

We have a tradition of making nachos whenever we are on holiday.  My non-existant Spanish lead me to the “queso” section and I grabbed my best guess for something close to sharp cheddar and mozza.

A couple days later, I went to open the “cheddar-like” brick and discovered that the orange color was simply a plastic wrapping under the saran wrap.  Once I got through that layer, there was another layer of saran wrap to take off.  I was immediately assaulted with the putrid, overwhelming stench of rotting, post-workout socks.  There was no way I was putting that thing near my mouth, nor on nacho chips.   I quickly wrapped it all back up and put it in a ziploc for one extra security layer.  I wanted to toss the whole thing out but forced myself to put it back in the fridge.  I thought it would be a “good” (AWFUL) experience to force myself through the steps of eating (looking at a food, smelling it, touching it, licking it, chewing it and finally chewing and swallowing).  We expect our kids to simply chew and swallow a new food, regardless of their feelings towards it.  A pre-verbal child can’t explain to you that the smell of the cheese makes them feel nauseous.  We simply forget what it can be like and too quickly pull out the “you need to sit here until you eat it” strategy.   I kept imagining if someone made me sit at the table until I finished that block of cheese.   I am gagging right now at the thought spending  more than three seconds looking at that blessed cheese.

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Another few days later, I took the block of cheese out of the fridge, carefully unwrapped it (in such a manner that I wouldn’t have to touch it), breathed through my mouth and squished a piece with my fingers.  I licked it, gagged and tossed the whole thing.

It was a good experience to help me empathize with a child when they refuse a food.

CELEBRATE WHETHER THEY LOOK, SMELL, TOUCH OR LICK IT.  Give them a couple days before you re-introduce.  Re-introduce the food in a different way (maybe the cheese wouldn’t have been so overwhelming if someone had crumbled it on a salad).

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Picky Eating Part 4: New food interactions and Language at Mealtime

We’ve covered our bases by:

We want to work on expanding your picky eater’s repertoire of accepted foods.  Dinner time is the most chaotic time of the day in a household with young children.  NOT THE EASIEST TIME TO WORK ON SOMETHING NEW.  Kids are at their whiniest and I’m typically tapped out of patience by this point in the day.

Start with a snack time.  Introduce a new food alongside a preferred food.   It’s less stressful for you if your child ends up touching a food, but not eating it.  It’s easier to count the snack as a success if he stayed at the table and interacted with the new food in some way.  Even if that interaction was building a tower with the Babybels.  Allow creative, fun ways to interact with food.  Think of it as “building feeding skills” rather than simply playing with food.  Remember to model an interaction with the new food rather than stating “try it” to you child.

You can also consider making a small change to an accepted food at a snack time. If your child likes slices of ham, cut one into a circle and one into a square.  Offer a slice of black forest next to honey ham.  Offer a slice of turkey next to the honey ham.  Some kids feel more comfortable if you still have the preferred food present alongside the small change.  They are reassured that you haven’t taken away or changed that favourite food forever.

In an ideal world, mealtime is about re-connection with loved ones and creating memories.  Mealtime with little kids is ANYTHING BUT. First you have to herd them to the table, then get them to stay there and actually eat something.  I often hear myself saying “focus on eating”, “how is your corn?” or “how does the salmon sound in your mouth?”.  Think about the language you are using at the table.

Some version of “eat it” is likely the most common thing parents say to little kids, IF they can get them to the table.    At this stage of development, our little humans have an intense desire for independence and some semblance of control.  Saying “take a bite” is a poor way to encourage eating and it certainly won’t help develop a positive feeding relationship between the two of you. Toddlers and preschoolers are all about power.   Taking a bite is likely the last thing they will do when you tell them to.  Especially if there is some anxiety or hesitation around trying something new.  Take the focus off the BITE of food and move it to teaching about the food.

Talk about:

  • food characteristics:  Is the food hard or soft?  Warm or cold?  Crunchy or quiet?  Big taste or little taste?
  • the health benefits of the food
  • how the food is grown

Talk about how you are eating!

  • I’m going to try to chew my food with my front teeth.  Watch.
  • I wonder what it feels like to chew with my side teeth.
  • I like how these beans feel in my mouth.
  • I wonder if I can bite this chickpea in two pieces.

Use empowering statements:

  • You can poke your yam fries with your finger but you don’t have to eat it.
  • You can touch your pea to your lips (but you don’t have to eat it).

It’s always an uphill battle to keep your language in check when you know the calories are necessary so your child is full the entire night!  I hear the words ” are you sure you are full?” and “have another bite” come out of my mouth too.  I’m always working on it.






Leung A, Marchand V, Sauve R, Canadian Pediatric Society.  The ‘picky eater’: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat.  Pediatr Child Health  [internet]. 2012 Oct [cited 2014 June]; 17(8): 455-57. Available from: http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/toddler-preschooler-who-does-not-eat

Birch LL. Development of food acceptance patterns in the first years of life. Proc Nutr Soc. 1998 Nov;57(4);617-24.

Toomey K,  Ross E. Picky Eaters vs. Problem Feeders: The SOS Approach to Feeding [unpublished lecture notes]. Renfrew Educational Services; notes provided at lecture 2011 February.

Dunn Klein, M. The Get Permission Approach to Sensory Mealtime Challenges [unpublished lecture notes]. Alberta Childrens Hospital; notes provided at lecture May 2, 2103.




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When your kid says “Yuck” and won’t eat anything. Picky Eating Part I

I am often told, “my child used to be such a good eater and now she wants to eat the same foods every day.” It is frustrating and stressful to hear your child request the same food day after day.  You dread mealtime rather than viewing it as an enjoyable time of reconnection.  (Who am I kidding, even with “good” eaters, mealtimes with young kids are rarely relaxing.) When your child has a small repertoire of foods,  you worry that she will not get the proper nutrition to grow and learn.   Our worth as parents sometimes feels like it is defined by a “good meal.”

Strategies for dealing with picky eating:

1. Think about changing things up at mealtime.

2.  Add books about food into your library!!!

The picky eater stage is in full force in the toddler and preschool years…along with many other challenges! Luckily, it’s also the stage where language and some early reasoning skills are developing.   Use your child’s new skills to your advantage and do some teaching about foods away from the table.  When the expectation to eat is absent, everyone is less stressed.  Kids have the ability to learn more about the how the body works and why we need to eat.

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9780152009021_xlg   0374363625  cvr9780027822502_9780027822502_lg

You can also check out these colouring pages for the closer to 4 – 5 year old crowd.

Talk about the importance of a well balanced diet from a nutrition standpoint.  Of course, do so in a developmentally appropriate manner.  A 2.5 year old with 80 words may not benefit from information about minerals and nutrients.  She will understand that food can make her strong though!

I recognized the power of this strategy the other morning at my house.  My girls saw a picture of a bowl of peas and thus asked for peas for breakfast.   This has never happened before.  Luckily, I had a bag of peas in the freezer…. they each had 2 little bowls of peas for breakfast.   The power of visual input combined with throwing out the traditional food choices for breakfast!  A success…

Try it out… talk about the importance of food away from the table and see what happens.


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