Friday, December 12, 2014

Tips For Preparing Food For Picky Eaters, From The Cherry On Top

Welcome to The Cherry On Top.

Are you dealing with picky eaters in your home?  We have two boys with Autism. Our youngest has sensory issues.  Especially, texture in food.  This makes eating a challenge.  Perhaps your kiddos are scrunching up their noses to anything healthy? 

Eating should be fun.  Keep it light, make it fun, relax.  Let them make a mess and really enjoy their food.  Let them eat with their fingers.  Some kids totally need to touch their food, smell it, play with it, get to know it, before eating it. It will help with the process.  As soon as we stopped with all of the bickering shouting,demands, etc, they began eating better.

(JJ was nonverbal and it took us a while to figure out that he wanted to wear his hat while eating.  Definitely worth the exchange to eating a good meal.)

Follow these tips to help your picky eaters perk up to good food.

DON'T GIVE UP: It took us years and we still struggle a little with changing habits.

DO NOT FORCE FEED:  This is THE most important rule when feeding your child.  Consider a few things.  One, prepare yourself.  That's right!  Your child may not like whatever it is you are going to serve them, so prepare yourself for their reaction.  You may have slaved over the stove for the last hour preparing, but deal with it and deal with it positively.  Have something they do like as back up, but nicely encourage them to TRY it.

You may say something like, "I'll give you something different if you just taste this, first."  Then leave it around because sometimes they do like it, but don't want to admit it.  We noticed, when we left them alone with the food, they often tried or even ate it eventually.  If it's possible, give them time

Remain Positive:  Don't turn around and make them feel bad.  Just ignore them and smile at your success.  Don't rub it in their face or even scold them for finally eating the food. Don't make them feel guilty for not eating something.

Keep it simple.  By all means, keep the food simple with little to no salt or sauce or mixed together. Casseroles and chunky soups are things a lot of kids do not like. Plain pasta (maybe a bit of butter), yogurt, fruit, raw or cooked veggies with nothing on them.  Nuts, bread...all plain if you have to.  Think about what a child needs.  Mostly veg and fruit, grains, a bit of meat and fat and that's it.  Even dairy and grains can be debated on their health benefits after a certain age.

Just because you don't like it, doesn't mean they won't.  Expose your children and family to as many different kinds of HEALTHY foods as possible.  Leave nothing out.  I was so surprised to see my youngest love quinoa.  I mean, the kid has sensory disorder!  I thought, what the heck.  Another thing my youngest really enjoys is RAW veggies.  More so than cooked ones which is great because they are even healthier still and a breeze to put in the lunch.  As I'm cooking, I invite the children to come and taste things, raw.  Show them how fun it is to try by being the example.  It's ok to not like everything.  Let them know this, too.

It's a control thing.  Kids pretty much have very few things that they control.  Eating, sleeping and going to the toilet are all things they control and they can manipulate us through these things because let's face it, these things are REALLY important.  Let your child have guided control of these three things and you will see a turn around.  Do NOT let your child, who knows nothing about the importance of diet, control what you are serving.  

Give them choices.  This makes them feel in control.  You may have to say, "It's up to you.  You have a choice."  Choices can be a few different foods that they may not like, but they choose one over the other. Trying a food they do not typically like, but receiving something they do like as another choice.  "Just try the beans and then you can eat the carrots."  Do this often!  One time ain't gonna do the trick.

Don't let them leave the table until it's finished.  Give really, really small amounts in the beginning and work up to an appropriate serving.  Stick with this one!

Use routine, especially when it works.  We drink water with every meal.  They don't get a choice and they can't leave the table until it's finished.  The end.  Stand firm on the things that are really important and let the small stuff slide for the time being.  We are made mostly of water and water is really important.  Get them started early and start off with small amounts.  Use fresh squeezed lemon or lime if you have to, but do it.  Drinking water is essential for our health and it's a super example, too.  Find out more about the benefits of drinking water here.

Consistency: Keep the same rules about eating.  Like drinking water, staying at the table until it's finished and trying new things.  Trying, not necessarily eating, if that works best for you kids. Just  touch on their finger or lips. We have also implemented the, "No eat/No Games" rule.  This has helped us BIG TIME! 

If your child is gagging, definitely stop!

Positive Reinforcement: comes in many forms.  You may read things about not offering dessert or punishing a child for not eating, but you can take a different take on this.  Dessert works sometimes.  I think it's a great way to reinforce good eating habits, but don't do it every day.  It won't work after a while if you keep doing it.  Neither will giving them small toys for doing it.  You have to totally mix all of these things up and use it only when necessary.  Verbal encouragement, high fives, hugs and kisses are always great ways to positively reinforce good eating habits.  Do this A LOT.  Kids love when they make their parents happy even though they might not show it.

Be reasonable.  Take this slowly and remember that your children don't have to love everything. Also know, that this could take years, but it's all worth it.  Allow them to eat with their fingers.  There is a time and a place.  My boys are 8 and 9 and still eat most things with their fingers, but they know to use utensils at restaurants and with company.

Distraction:  This totally works for us, but not all of the time.  We often try to engage them either in conversation or play (if they are younger) while eating.  This worked amazingly for us.  They are distracted from what is in their mouth and after a couple of bites, they no longer need distraction.

(Toys at the table helped us tremendously.)

Read THIS if it's really bad in your house:  (It was bad in our's, too.)In the beginning we allowed them to drive around the table with their car and when they came to us, we put a scoop of food in their mouth.  We let them walk around and play while the food was on the table, just so that they ate. This may have worked the best. Of course, they grew out of all of this.  They ate and they ate healthy.  For us, that was more important than sitting behind the table like little adults.

Be the example:  Teach them that trying is fun and let them taste everything and then talk about what they tasted and ask why or why they didn't like it.

(If they ask, let them try.  It will encourage them to try again.  Just a taste!  Hehehe...)

Judgement:  Use your best judgement.  If you can see that your child is miserable while eating the food, then by all means take it away and try again another time.  Look at their eyes, their mouth and don't make them continue if they really are suffering.  They may not want to try something else later if you make them eat it.

Here are some more simple tips to get your kids to eat healthy food:

*Let them put salt and or pepper/condiments/honey on it.  (Monitor, of course.)

*Introduce fruit with honey or even sprinkles on it and with each time you serve it after, use less and less, until you don't need any more. (This worked magically for us.)

*Let them cook.

*Give them a choice of what to eat.

*Make fun shapes with food.

*Mince veggies and fruit and put them in muffins, breads and sauces.  (This works amazing and they get used to the flavour, too.)

*Display food on fun, new or non traditional dishes and cups.

*Use non traditional instruments to eat with, like chop sticks, huge spoons, tiny forks or even tooth picks.  JJ loved this huge spoon and he loved eating food on a stick.

*Serve food on a stick.  Veggies, fruit, meat...

*Give them something to dunk it in.  Honey, dips, ketchup...

*Keep it simple.  Really simple.  

Stay patient and calm.  It will come.  If we could do it with our Autistic, sensory children, you can do it, too!  We wish you the best of luck.  

Leave some tips for our readers, that work for you.

You've got this!

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