Thinking Outside the Plate: Strategies for Picky Eaters

Does your child have a very restricted range of foods they eat? Do they tend to cry or “fall apart” when presented with new foods? Do they refuse entire categories or textures of food? Do their feeding problems cause dysfunction in your everyday life? If yes, your child may benefit from some of the feeding tips below:

• Establish a mealtime routine. This helps decrease your child’s “fear of the unknown” related to food. For example, give your child a 5-minute warning prior to mealtime, then wash hands, set table, etc. Adapt and modify the routine to work for your family, but consistency in the routine is important.
• Get your child involved in the meal preparation, such as preparing and serving the foods. The more your child is exposed to different foods, the more comfortable they will feel in eating it.
• Check your child’s positioning when eating. It is important that they are seated in an upright position with feet flat on the floor or another surface, like a stool. Most children benefit from a booster seat (strapped or unstrapped) with a stool under their feet. Or, if able, have them seated at a children’s height table with children’s height chair. Being in the correct position can give them the proper support to eat and keep them from wiggling around during mealtime.
• Model by eating with your child, they learn well through imitation.
• Play with the food with your child without pressuring them to eat it. The more exposure to the food, the more comfortable they will feel to eat it.
• Give the child choices so they feel like they have control. For example, lick the apple once or kiss it three times.
• If they don’t like it the first time, keep trying! The more exposure to foods, the more likely they are to enjoy it.
• Build on successes and preferred foods. If they like chips, try different types of chips like vegetable chips. If they like gummy bears, try other gummy/chewy foods (dried fruits, fruit leather, beef jerky, etc.). Be sure to point out how similar it is to their preferred foods.
• Praise! Get excited about every milestone, no matter how small.
• Keep in mind that with problem feeders, it is common for them to eat the same foods at every meal every day. It is also very common that they eventually get bored or burned out on those foods and begin to reject that food permanently. In order to prevent this, it is important to make very small changes to their preferred foods, such as changing the shape, color, taste, and texture.

Keep in mind that there is not a one size fits all feeding approach, so be prepared for trial and error. The occupational therapists at The Therapy Spot are very skilled at helping to find the feeding approach that will work best for you and your child.

If your child is having difficulties with feeding, contact our office to speak with a therapist or schedule an evaluation!


Grogan, A.  (n.d.)  The best position for your child during mealtime. Retrieved from

Toomey, K. A. (2010).  Introduction to the SOS approach to feeding program.  Retrieved from

Toomey, K. A. (2010).  When children won’t eat: understanding the “why’s” and how to help.  Retrieved from