Some children who appear to be picky eaters may actually have aversions to the textures or temperatures of different foods. Children with sensory defenses or sensory processing disorders often have trouble eating foods that feel strange or unpleasant in their mouths. While these children may be slow to accept new foods, it is necessary for adequate nutrition that they learn to do so.
Signs and Symptoms
Children with food aversions are more than just picky eaters. Many actually fear the food put in front of them. Some may eat only crunchy or smooth or salty food, or they may refuse an entire food group. Infants may resist breastfeeding or taking a bottle and may arch their bodies in resistance when fed. As children grow older, they may resist foods of different textures, or gag or vomit when new foods are introduced. Some children develop frequent respiratory infections or do not gain adequate weight.
Start With What She Knows
If there is a food your child loves, try to find other foods with similar textures. For example, if she likes chips, she may like pretzels. If your child prefers crunchy foods, she may not eat soft bread, but she may eat peanut butter on a cracker. If she likes soft foods, like applesauce, she may accept other pureed fruits, like pears or bananas. If you introduce too many foods at once, you may turn your child off to eating entirely. Instead, make slow, small changes. If she likes yellow cheese, introduce her to different types of yellow cheese. If she likes mashed potatoes, give her a baked potato and mash it slightly.
Let Him Play
Even if you cringe at the thought of the mess, let your child pick up and look at, touch, feel and smell his food before eating it. This allows him to process the food through a different sense before he puts it in his mouth. You may want to let your child play with plastic food first. Let him build a sandwich with play bread, meat and lettuce, and then make the transition to making a sandwich with the actual ingredients. You may be surprised when he eats it.
Focus on the Food
When you sit down to eat, turn off the television or other distracting stimuli. Make sure the table is clear of everything not necessary for the meal, and make sure there is adequate lighting. Serve your child at least one food that the rest of the family is eating, as well as one of her preferred foods.
Do Not Beg
As tempting as it may be, do not beg, threaten or bribe your child to eat, or it will result in a battle of control that will ultimately backfire.
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