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Ask Miss Patti: Feeding your picky eater

Keep introducing new things and don’t make a big deal about it
Cook things that are appealing to all the senses and respect their choices without guilt or arguments.

Dear Miss Patti,

My son, who is four, is an extremely picky eater. I try to send healthy choices to his daycare like fruit and veggies but they always come back uneaten. He will eat them at home when they are fresh but doesn’t seem to like them after they’ve been sitting for a bit. He’ll eat the crackers or cookies I send but I feel like a bad mom if I only send these kinds of things. Advice?

—Permanently Picky?

Dear Permanently Picky,

This is a concern for many parents who have children that are picky about different textures. Carrot sticks can get sweaty, strawberries can get mushy, but a cracker is a cracker all day long. I would do the same and throw in the carrots knowing they would come home but wanting to make sure my kid's teachers didn’t think I was a bad mom as well.

Finally, I just had a conversation with my son’s teachers and shared their sensory issues. Textures are tricky and not something as adults we think about too much. But there are textures we avoid as adults as well. Some people don’t like soups with chunks of veggies in them or avoid bananas due to their mushy texture. We just don’t pack these things in our own lunches yet we pack things in our kids lunches in order to look good to others.

As my boys got older, they were able to verbalize more what was going on for them. My youngest would literally gag at certain smells. I had him help me once make a dip and didn’t make the best choice. I was making artichoke dip and as he watched these artichokes sluggishly come out of the can and plop into the mixing bowl, he was already gagging and I could see my mistake. Carving pumpkins as a child or the smell of tomatoes ripening would also cause a reaction. Cook things that are appealing to all the senses and respect their choices without guilt or arguments.

On hot lunch day at school, my youngest would always request just the hot dog and not the bun, but one day they forgot and he had both. He came home and proudly announced he tried it. He told me it was very hard to get past the texture of the bun as it switched to the texture of the hot dog but he pressed on and found something new he could eat. (I know not the healthiest of things to try but it was new so I still considered it a victory!)

Keep introducing new things and don’t make a big deal about it. My friend Lisa had a lazy Susan on her table and would fill it mostly with options she knew her children would like and one thing that they could try that was new but only if they wanted. And honestly it changes all the time as well. What they eat one day changes tomorrow, but just keep trying. Eventually as their sensory needs change so will their diet. Add vitamins to their diet and if you can sneak healthy options into things they like (if this works, it never did for mine…they were like the princess and the pea, they always seemed to know!) this might work as well.

For educators, please try and refrain from judgment and have conversations with parents if you’re concerned about what you see packed. We learn in our ECE courses not to put any food on a pedestal and that all foods are equal and educate children about moderation rather than take certain foods out completely. If we refer to foods as treats or not allow them, it makes them seem special and we always want those special things more than just regular stuff. This will just create kids who crave these forbidden foods and raid their friend’s pantry when they visit. I know my mom didn’t allow Kool-Aid growing up (we didn’t actually want to drink it, we wanted to dip our fingers in the powder) and, of course, I would do this at all my friend’s houses almost obsessively.

Also remember, sometimes it can be a sensory issue and not just your child being stubborn about certain foods. And just because they ate something yesterday doesn't mean their palettes or sensory needs don’t change tomorrow. Educate your children about moderation, share with the educators your child’s needs and keep trying new things without adding pressure or a power struggle.

This article is from the U.S. but it explains in more detail the sensory end of foods. If you do have concerns reach out to the Occupational Therapist in your area.

Send your questions to Miss Patti at

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