After another busy day you finally get dinner on the table. Everyone has been served, glasses filled, and you sink down into your chair. Then you hear it: “I don’t like this. I want pasta. Mommmy where’s mmyyy food?” Your three year old is sitting back, arms crossed, upturned nose. You have a picky eater.
You’re not alone. I’ve seen kids pour ketchup on everything. I’ve seen kids refuse anything but noodles, cereal, or bananas. It’s very frustrating, worrying, and can make you feel quite ineffective and unappreciated. So what to do when your kid is a picky eater? Maybe you’ve already tried a few strategies; maybe you’ve tried them all. Well, I am going to share with you, what I think is, a pretty exciting and new approach to overcoming the picky eater problem.
If your child is a picky eater, chances are you have seen some or all of the following advice:
- slowly introduce new foods in small portions
- discourage grazing and only offer food at snack and mealtimes
- make mealtimes enjoyable with favorite dishes and fun presentations
- do not use food as bribes, rewards, or punishments
- get kids involved in preparing meals and choosing meal plans
- keep mealtime distractions to a minimum
- no eating in front of the television
- lead by example and let your kids see you eat a variety of foods
I would hope that you have seen some success with the above suggestions. However, as you’ll read below, a child’s dislike of certain foods is a more complex problem than just serving choices, colors, and appetite.
The relationship between smell and taste
When eating, both taste and smell are responsible for our like or dislike of foods. Think about your enjoyment of food with a stuffed nose, or try eating different foods while plugging your nose. You’ll find that food tastes differently or is less appetizing when you cannot smell it.
Knowing this, I was still surprised when I read about the following strategy for picky eaters. Because taste and smell work so closely together, it can be helpful to develop and explore both these senses together when trying to fix a food aversion.
What to do when your kid is a picky eater
Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, likes to remind parents that “…the more we refine our senses, the better we are at doing… just about everything. Spending some time every day outdoors … offers many sensory benefits.” In Hanscom’s book Balanced and Barefoot she discusses how outside active play is imperative to helping children develop healthy bodies and minds.
Specifically, she writes that in order to address food aversions, babies and young children should be exposed to a variety of outdoor smells on a regular basis. Also, by allowing young kids to mouth pine cones, rocks, and leaves they will further develop the mouth sensations which may prevent intolerance for food textures at an older age. Yes, making your kids eat dirt will make them less picky eaters.
Fun activities for developing the senses
Here are some ideas for outdoor activities to support healthy development of taste and smell. All of these suggestions should in some way stimulate your child’s sense of smell, and many of the suggestions include tasting and eating in a fun outdoor way.
- Garden with your kids – have your kids participate in every step: choosing which seeds to plant, tending the garden, watering, weeding, harvesting, and cooking
- Take your lunch outside for a picnic
- Grow herbs and have your kids pick these to garnish plates and add to the cooking pot
- Enjoy a wiener and marshmallow roast
- Explore local greenhouses and botanical gardens
- Visit a Cabin a Sucre (Maple syrup farm) or aviary (bee keeper) to sample the syrup and honey
- Gather a bouquet of wildflowers and put them on your kitchen table
- Fashion necklaces and crowns from flowers and herbs
- Make birdseed ornaments from pine cones, nut butter, and sunflower seeds
- Pick some ripe citrus and have them help make fresh squeezed juice
- Go berry picking and let your kids sample a few berries out in the berry patch, then use the berries (and your child’s help) to make jam, pie, or cobbler
Addressing taste and food texture aversions is not a problem to be remedied overnight. It will take time and patience. Remember that you are not alone in your struggles. Many families have a picky eater (or two) at the dinner table. There are numerous professionals who can also assist you and your family with these problems as well. I found the Dietitians of Canada a helpful resources.
Go ahead and give some of these strategies a try. I hope that some of these fun activities will help to both expand your little one’s experiences out of doors as well as expand their tolerances at the dinner table. Maybe you will also expand your pallet at the same time.
I’d love to hear if you have tried any of these suggestions or if something else has worked for your family.
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