Can OT Help With Picky Eating?

An Occupational Therapist can work with a child on integrating more food choices if a child only eats certain foods or dislikes trying new foods.

Here are five strategies that can be used to reduce the mealtime battles and help your picky eater try new foods!

  1. Serve preferred and non-preferred foods. At every meal, serve at least one preferred food and at least one non-preferred food to your child. The preferred food ensures that they will have something to eat, while the non-preferred food gives them important exposure to new foods. Only introduce 1 new food at a time in small portions and introduce the new food at the beginning of the meal when the child is hungry.
  2. Model eating. Whenever possible, bring your child to the same table surface as you or another caregiver so that everyone is at eye level. Let your child see you eating the foods you are serving them!
  3. Throw out the rules! If you have rules about what your child must eat such as a “one bite rule,” “first eat this, then get that,” or “clear your plate before you leave the table,” consider letting these rules go. 
  4. Use books, videos, and play. Picky eaters need lots of modeling and practice to learn to eat new foods. Use these items to make eating fun and maybe increase interest to try a new food.
  5. Know when to get help. Some kids need more intensive help to address their picky eating. 

The main difference between "picky eater" and a "problem feeder" is the number of foods the child will eat. A "picky eater" usually eats greater than 30 foods and a "problem feeder" usually eats less than 20 accepted foods. 

The following are red flags that could be a sign that a child may need professional help with their feeding:

  1. under/overweight
  2. choking, gagging, coughing, vomiting with eating
  3. difficulty with accepting different textures of foods
  4. not accepting an entire food group
  5. food range less than 20 foods
  6. fighting with caregiver about foods or mealtime

If you have a child that you feel is a picky eater, reach out to your pediatrician for guidance. Occupational therapists can work with you and your child to integrate more food choices into your child’s diet.

-Michelle Lowe, COTA