My almost 2-year old has had severe reflux since about 3 weeks of age, and one of the complications has been a fear of eating (actually the pain that accompanies eating). We have been working with a feeding specialist and an occupational therapist and have made great progress. She is now eager to try new foods, especially fruits and veggies (meat is still iffy). All this to say that I have an arsenal of tips for convincing reluctant eaters. Some may work for picky eaters, too.
Here are the most important things we’ve learned:
The feeding specialist told us that between 6 and 12 months of age, it may take up to 10 exposures to a new food before the child decides if he or she likes it or not. After 12 months, it could be up to 20 exposures. Many parents simply give up too early.
The exception to the above is a food on which the child gags. If you have a fearful eater and you continue to encourage the child to eat (and gag on) this food, the child may categorically reject all similar-looking foods. My daughter gagged on pureed winter squash, so we held off offering it again until the table food stage, when she could more easily distinguish it from other orange veggies, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, both of which she liked.
Many food aversions are texture-based, rather than taste-based. Mixed-texture foods, such as grapes and blueberries (a tough initial bite followed by a burst of liquid), are the most commonly rejected foods among very young children, so if your child routinely refuses blueberries, for example, he or she may actually enjoy them pureed into yogurt. Keep experimenting. And many children have trouble on the “chunky” baby food purees because of the uneven texture. It’s better to go straight from purees to table food.
Allow your child to handle produce in many different ways. Eating is a multi-sensory experience, and new research suggests that kids who play with their food eventually become less picky than children who don’t. I’m convinced that the reason my daughter is so eager to try new fruits and vegetables is because I bring her with me to pick up and unpack our CSA share box each week. She gets to see and feel each item, and then she helps me put it all away at home.