Tips to Help Your Child Eat More Foods

You prepare the yummiest meal for your child, and are excited for him/her to try it. Your toddler sits down, you get ready to eat, and… Oh no, not again… The food is on the floor, the cries begin, and your child turns his/her head away from each bite. Meal time has become the most stressful time of the day.

It is easy to feel discouraged during these times. Many parents feel concerned that their child is not consuming enough nutritious foods. Feeding difficulties tend to also co-occur with speech and language delays, diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder, and other developmental delays; thus, children feel very overwhelmed during meal-times.

Below are some tips to hopefully promote smoother, and easier, experiences during mealtimes. Keep in mind, it takes time (Fun fact: A child has to be offered a new food between 10-15 times before even considering eating it).

  1. Positive Environment – Play!

    Foster a fun environment during meal-times. Many times, children instantly feel an aversion to sitting at the table due to the pressure of seeing/touching a non-preferred food. It is recommended to incorporate food into play (e.g., stack cheese cubes into a toy car, have a dinosaur toy stomp on little blueberries), as play is extremely beneficial in helping your child feel happy and safe. Remember that the first step is for your child to simply touch/play with non-preferred foods.
  2. Turn off Ipad / Screen-time

    I know this can be a tricky one, especially if your child is used to using his/her iPad/screen time during meal time. Although it may initially be difficult, limiting screen-time during meal-time is hugely beneficial in the long-run. By limiting screen-time during meal time, it’ll help redirect the focus on the certain foods, flavors, and textures that are in front of him/her, which will then help him/her process a variety of foods in a healthier way.
  3. Offer the Same Foods in Varying Ways

    Cut up the fruit/vegetable in different shapes (e.g., dinosaurs, hearts) and in different sizes. Mix preferred foods with non-preferred foods; for example, if your child likes Nutella, spread an extremely thin layer on non-preferred foods (e.g.strawberries). We all like to do this sometimes, even as adults! For example, if we have a hard time consuming lettuce, we use a yummy dressing sauce to motivate us.
  4. Use a Tri-Section Plate

    Buy plates that are divided into different sections. You can find them on Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc. If you’re not familiar with the, below is a link to give a better idea of what they look like: Use two sections for preferred foods, and use the third section for a new food. By doing this, your child’s exposure to new foods increases, while still having the comfort of those preferred foods nearby. By continuing this pattern of increasing exposure to new foods using the tri-section plate, it becomes the new routine. The new routine becomes the new “normal” for your child, which helps him/her feel less overwhelmed when there are new or non-preferred foods in front of him/her.
  5. Use a “No Thank You” Bowl

    Many times, children will throw the food on the floor because they don’t know how to properly express their disinterest. If he/she throws the food on the floor, use hand-over-hand assistance to pick up the food together and put it in a “no thank you” bowl. By doing this, it replaces the negative behavior of throwing the food on the floor, and also allows for the non-preferred foods to be nearby (next to the plate of food). Eventually, the increased exposure of having the non-preferred foods nearby in a bowl will help your child feel more comfortable being near the precise foods that they once thought were “yucky”. Additionally, your child will feel empowered to make his/her own choice, which will likely decrease tantrums.
  6. 6) Eat WITH your child

    It is very important to model eating the same non-preferred foods. Have fun while you eat the food – use exclamatory words/phrases (e.g., “Mmmmm”, “So yummy!”), smile and laugh, play with the foods, etc. If you are showing positivity during meal-times, your child is much more likely to mirror that frame of mind.

With all of these tips, it is essential to remember that it takes time. Although difficult, try to reduce expectations that these tips will work, for at least the first 15 trials. Reduction of expectations will increase patience as you begin applying these tips.

Additionally, reach out to a speech-language pathologist and/or occupational therapist if your child continues to display difficulties during feeding times. They will utilize specific strategies to target any oral-motor dysfunctions or sensory issues, if they are identified.

If you live in Florida, please reach out to Exceptional Speech Therapy (786-717-5649) to schedule an evaluation to help determine your child’s individualized needs.

We hope some of these tips help you all!

-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer

***These aforementioned tips and ideas were inspired by Kelli Meyer M.Ed, CCC-SLP Certified & Licensed Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist, who posts regular videos on her YouTube channel (“The Speech Scoop”). ***