October Scaries: Food Phobias (aka "You want me to eat WHAT?!")

This month we’re rounding out our October Scaries series with picky eaters and food phobias. This blog was originally published in March of 2018, and was updated for the October series.

“I’m not eating that! Gross!”

When you go to a restaurant, you bring an extra meal for your kid. You and your partner make dinner, and your little one has a whole separate menu for themselves. You'd rather have them eat something than nothing, but you're almost worried that if they eat another chicken nugget, they're going to turn into one. 

Why are kids such picky eaters?

There are a lot of different reasons that kids can be picky eaters - but part of the underlying issue can be anxiety - and not just fear of new foods. 

They'll only eat mayonnaise on white bread. Or they'll eat applesauce on Tuesdays and Tuesdays alone. That picky eating can be part of their exerting control on a little corner of their world. They feel overwhelmed and anxious about everything else, so at least they have a say on what they eat and when.

Anxious kids can also have sensory processing issues with food as well.

And in times like these, it may be helpful to have them meet with an occupational therapist who can help with their eating issues.

5 steps to help parents of picky eaters:

  1. Start small. Have one food you introduce each week. Have it on their plate. Don't take it off.

  2. If they try a new food? Praise, praise, praise! Be very specific - you are so proud of them for trying that new food. They did a great job having one bite of the meatloaf. ETC.

  3. Ignore the negative behavior. If they throw their food on the floor, just ignore it. Yes, it will be messy - but if you're not giving them a big response, you're not accidentally reinforcing their behavior.

  4. Meet with a counselor. If they're very picky, they're experiencing anxiety about new foods on some level - and I'd guess that they're anxious and stressed about other new things as well.

  5. Consider Occupational Therapy. Many OT's can help with picky eating, and assess if there is an underlying sensory processing issue, meaning they're not just picky for the sake of being picky.

What else to do:

Anxiety and food issues can go hand in hand, so it’s important to make the food issues less of a struggle. Keep a calm voice and level head throughout the food struggle, and try talking with your picky eater separate from meal times about what’s going on.

You may be tempted to use a picky eaters behavior chart, where you track the amount of times your child tries a new food. However, I’d encourage parents to steer away from incentivizing food this way. Food shouldn’t be about good or bad, forced or easy. Instead, treat each meal as an opportunity to try something new.

Curious to hear more? Picky eaters making life a little more difficult? Kelsey works with kids and teens from pre-school to college. Her office is located in Clayton and she works with parents and families from Ladue, Town and Country, Creve Couer, and the surrounding St. Louis area. You can email her at kelsey@compassionatecounselingstl.com or call her at 314-339-7640 to hear more about counseling options.