Understanding Picky Eating: It's Not Just About the Food

The Complexity of Picky Eating

We live in a world where the average U. S. grocery store offers a stunning 30,000 plus different options. And yet we’re in a picky-eating epidemic where kids won’t try new foods. How bad is it. A review in the journal “Appetite” looked at over two dozen studies and found that up to half of our kids may be picky eaters. Now that's a lot of worried parents looking for answers.

But what if I told you picky eating is not all about food. Eating is one of the hardest things human beings ever have to learn to do. We think it’s automatic, but when I was trained in the SOS approach to feeding, I found out that every time we eat, we go through a 32-step process. And when we first learn to eat, it isn’t automatic. There’s a specific sequence we need to follow.

The Five P's of Picky Eating

There are five key factors that contribute to picky eating: palate, pain, processing, pressure, and power. Palate refers to physical factors such as tongue tie or mouth shape that can affect a child's ability to eat. Pain includes food allergies, constipation, and other conditions that cause discomfort after eating. Processing refers to sensory processing difficulties that impact how a child engages with food. Pressure refers to the common parenting practice of pressuring children to eat, which can have negative consequences. Power refers to the lack of appropriate boundaries and choices in mealtime routines.

Strategies for Overcoming Picky Eating

There are several strategies parents can use to help their children overcome picky eating. One approach is to prepare the space by establishing proper snack times and spacing out meals and snacks to build appetite. Leading with vegetables during mealtime can also be effective, as the first bites of food taste the best when we're hungry. It's important to keep a poker face and avoid pressuring children to eat. Allowing them to make their own decisions once the food is served can help build a positive relationship with food.

Another powerful strategy is involving children in cooking. Research shows that kids who participate in cooking are more open to trying new foods, especially vegetables. Cooking provides a safe environment for sensory exploration and allows children to have a sense of control over their food choices.

By understanding the complexity of picky eating and implementing these strategies, parents can help their children develop a healthy relationship with food and move from being picky eaters to having preferences.

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