Breaking Picky Eaters: Guest Post from Katie Goodman of GoodLife Eats

The following post is from Katie of GoodLife Eats and is the second guest post in the Breaking Picky Eaters series. We’ll hear from one more mom early next week, and then we’ll start to look at different reasons why a child might be picky and solutions and methods to try with your “particular eaters” at home based on what has worked for all of us, what hasn’t worked and what might work for you.


I know that many moms struggle with feeding their children, particularly if one, or more, of those children is considered a picky eater. I know because I fight this battle every.single.day. and have for the past 5 years. My almost 6 year old is the pickiest eater I know.

I hate to use the word picky, but I don’t really know another way to describe his eating habits. I always tell people to imagine the pickiest eater they know and then times that by at least 5. Then you have Logan.


A Little Background


I knew Logan would not be the easiest to feed starting pretty young. He did well with most baby food purees, but as we graduated to table foods I saw him struggling with mixed textures. By 15 months we found out that he had a severe peanut allergy and saw an immediate change in his eating.

His predispositions towards difficulty eating were amplified overnight. He was on guard all the time, and over time that fear of food became a habit. To him that was just the way it was. He didn’t like trying new foods, but he no longer knew why, and despite our best efforts, we saw him eliminating more and more foods from the list of what he would eat.

Pediatricians told us to keep trying, keep offering new foods, exposing him to difference choices. I heard “try this, try that” and constant suggestions for how to present foods or different foods that kids his age typically liked. And he didn’t like any of it simply because he wouldn’t taste it. Over time feeding became a power struggle. Logan was (and is) incredibly strong-willed and would rather not eat at all than try something new. Already on the smaller side, we couldn’t afford him to go on a food strike.

By 3 we were referred to an occupational therapist that specialized in feeding. We learned that Logan wasn’t really a picky eater, but a “Problem Feeder.” When we first started with the therapist Logan couldn’t handle having a new food placed in front of him without a total meltdown. The therapist worked with him to get him comfortable around new foods without the pressure of having to try something.

In the sessions we painted with pudding, made sailboats out of cheese and crackers, cut lunch meat out with cookie cutters and over time Logan would play with everything and eventually started to try a few things.


Where We Are Now


Logan “graduated” from therapy a year ago, but he’s still on the pickier side. We’ve made some progress, but we still have a long way to go. It’s a journey. Now we continue the tools we learned in therapy with him at home.

Monthly Focus
We choose one to two new foods each month and focus on those foods for the whole month. We usually choose a few foods that we would like to focus on and then let him choose one or two from that list. First we focus on just trying a bite at each meal and gradually build it up. After a few months Logan learned that this was the new routine (and was old enough to understand us explaining it to him) and went along with cooperation.

In a month Logan went from eating one bite of baby carrot to easily eating 5-6 carrots at a time. Right now we’re working on grilled cheese sandwiches; because believe it or not that’s something he’s never willingly eaten. I’ve found this monthly focus on new foods to be the least stressful way possible to incorporate new foods into his diet.

Besides this, I’ve found that the best we can do is set a positive example and involve him in the kitchen as much as possible. We also like to go raspberry picking in the summer and grow a vegetable garden to encourage more positive, fun experiences with new foods. Some of Logan’s favorite foods include pancakes, banana bread, pumpkin pecan muffins and oatmeal almond chocolate chunk cookies.

Encouragement
If this sounds familiar, I would encourage you to get in touch with your pediatrician to find out if there is a feeding specialist in your area that you can work with. Surround yourself with those who are uplifting rather than degrading and focus on the positive improvements your child makes.

It’s so easy to get weighed down by the negative but with the right support you and your child can work through these difficulties.

Katie Goodman’s lifelong interest in food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. Katie Goodman is the cook, recipe developer, and self-taught photographer behind GoodLife Eats. It is there that she shares what she finds good in the kitchen and in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week.


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Comments

  1. Katie, thanks for sharing. I knew some of this, but it was interesting to get more of the story. Wow, you’ve been through a lot. Hat’s off to you for hanging in there and persevering. I know this will be a big help to many other mothers out there.

  2. While I was lucky that my ‘picky eater’ seemed to grow out of it, I think I was luckiest that she never suffered as your son does.

    But my friend has a ‘problem feeder’ like Logan and they’ve been in therapy for awhile. It’s helping a bit but one of her biggest problems? She can not get her husband to get on board. Every meal that he is there he continues to pressure their son and Stacy often feels most defeated in her efforts by the one person who should be most supportive.

    Their son has always had a lower than average weight so it’s a huge issue for them; he simply can not afford to not eat. I’ll share this post with Stacy; she needs the encouragement and support.

    • Barbara, I really feel for your friend. I can’t even imagine that. Luckily my husband has every other friday off with his work schedule and that was when we had Logan’s appointments. We made it a family thing (since the therapist was open to family participation). Eric, Logan, Madeline (sister) and I all went. Madeline has always been the type to put everything in her mouth as a baby so that set a good example for Logan and I think this way it showed Logan that this was important to the whole family and his well being was a true concern.

      If it had just been me on my own we would have burned out very fast, but instead stood strong with every other week appointments for 2 years and monthly nutritionist appointments.

      Here is another guest post that I wrote about how to increase the nutrition in your picky eater’s foods: Healthy Eating Tips for Picky Eater’s. This really helps us since we are also considered about growth & size like your friend. Logan’ can’t afford to not eat and when he’s sick we really worry about him.

  3. My daughter is 2 and we are in the “she doesn’t like new foods because she WILL NOT TRY THEM.” It seems like her diet since she was 9 or 10 months old has almost consistently been bread, cheese, applesauce, and bananas. I hate the struggle at dinner every night.

    So many will tell you if they go to bed hungry a few times they will decide to eat. They haven’t met my daughter. I imagine she is hungry most nights because she rarely eats more than a bite or two of dinner and it is not allowed snacks if she doesn’t eat meals.

    I feel your pain a little here!

    • I totally understand you on this! We tried this tactic for a couple days with Logan and learned that he’d rather starve than have to eat a whole plate of new foods.

      • We tried this with Magnus for a while, too, and he definitely refused to eat dinner. We even tried offering it as breakfast the next day, and he’d still go without eating. While some kids may respond to this, not every child will.

        • My son, too, will literally starve before trying something that he finds uncomfortable. He truly exhibits a “fight or flight” anxiety response to new or non-preferred foods. It’s a very difficult position to be in as a parent as others look at you like you’re letting the kid get away with murder by not having him eat it… but when you’ve learned he’s never going to try it, it’s just not worth getting everyone upset to force the issue. There was a time when mealtime had gotten so stressful that we all dreaded it.

  4. This sounds exactly like our son! He just turned 4, and he used to be an explorer, but in the last year, he shut down to new choices. This comes at the perfect time for us. Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. Thank you for the great ideas, especially to focus on one or two new foods for an entire month. I have found that when I involve my boys in the food planning and preparation, they are more willing to try something new.

  6. I don’t have kids but I have seen my friends struggle with these issues as well. I see how frustrated the parents get when kids refuse to eat, I never realized that there were specialists who could help.

  7. Katie – this is a fantastic post. Your perspective is so valuable. I recently told a family about occupational therapy for feeding issues and she was so grateful! One of the hardest parts of this is keeping a good relationship with your child even though mealtime can feel like a battle ground. It’s so crucial to not make a big deal of it, but nearly impossible to do… Love your perspective and am thrilled that so many people can see it! I have a post today on some of the special challenges that kids with developmental delays face while eating (the link is below…)

  8. Katie-thank you so much for this post! I have an almost 5 year old and he is exactly how you described your son Logan, even down to his favorite foods (plus peanut butter). I live overseas and do not have the privilege of having an occupational therapist to help work through some of these issues. Is there a book you can recommend that might help in working with a problem eater?

    • I can’t think of any specific book that covered what we did in OT Feeding Therapy, but there are several other books we found helpful for other aspects of Logan’s personality that I feel contributed to his eating.

      We own these:
      123 Magic
      The Out of Sync Child
      Raising your Spirited Child
      First Meals
      Deceptively Delicious

      (the two food books were purchased so Logan could look through the photos and help choose new recipes he was willing to try)

      Some that look promising on Amazon that I might have to look into:

      Take the Fight out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems
      Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and the Families Who Love Them
      Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet

      This is incredibly informative, especially the picky vs. problem feeder.
      Picky Eater diagnoses: http://www.earlyinterventionsupport.com/parentingtips/feeding/picky-eater.aspx
      Logan is diagnosed “problem feeder.”
      http://www.earlyinterventionsupport.com/parentingtips/feeding/default.aspx

      Also check out the “Therapy Tools for Children” on the Early Intervention Support website. Lots of those are familiar tools from our therapy sessions. We always started sessions with some physical OT activities like therapy balls. Then moved on to the kitchen where we did oral things (blowing bubbles, nuk toothbrush work, etc and exploring with food through play)

      I hope this helps and was not too much info and overwhelming.

      • Wow, thank you so much for the resources and advice! This will be a huge help to our family. After reading some articles on picky vs. problem feeder, I have no doubt my son is in the problem feeder category. I look forward to doing some reading and hopefully can figure out how to do this without the external help of a therapist. Thanks again Katie!

  9. Very helpful post Katie. It is so tough getting kids to try new things. Wish I could live on Logan’s “favorites” list, though it would not sit pretty on the hips ;)

  10. What an eye opener. A problem feeder. New to me. What incredible parents to find the resources to learn the strategies to try. I wonder if this is something children “grow out of”…. what does Logan eat?
    :)
    Valerie

    • Logan eats many fruits and seems to do best with that. His favorites are apples, bananas, grapes, mandarin oranges, pears. For vegetables he eats carrots and celery. Vegetables are our new focus and we are working on adding broccoli this month.

      String cheese, bagels, soy nut butter sandwiches (no peanut butter bc allergy), pancakes, several muffin types, yogurt, milk, juice, several cereals, dried cranberries, dried mango, almonds, certain granola bars but he’s specific about that. He will also eat grilled cheese but that’s still a work in progress.

      I think that’s about it. In the past year he’s added the pears, carrots, celery, grilled cheese, dried mango, and not being specific about what type of cheese (i.e. mozzarella, jack, or cheddar. used to only eat mozzarella).

  11. I have a 13yo daughter who’s in the 3rd percentile for weight (she was in the 90th at birth!) and height. I’d say she’s a problem feeder, since early on. She gets her mind made up she won’t like something, then won’t try it. On the rare occasion she does try it, since she’s already made up her mind, she says she doesn’t like it. I don’t think she has EVER surprised herself and LIKED something that she didn’t want to eat. She likes many fruits, even 7 or 8 raw veggies. It’s proteins that are the most problem. No eggs, no milk (except in sugary cereal, which she never finishes). She and I have been in a constant power-struggle all her life, in all areas of life. Eating is just another one. Any ideas for a 13 year old?

    • I would try to get her involved in the kitchen with you. Look into some teen geared cookbooks for her to pick things from. I searched “cookbooks for teens” on amazon.com with lots of results. Does she like the Harry Potter series? I got my youngest sister who is a teen the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook for Christmas. It looked like a fun way to get interested in the kitchen.

      I worry about protein with Logan too. He doesn’t eat any meats, so we push it in the form of dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese). When he was eating even worse than now the nutritionist had us make smoothies and add a small amount of protein powder to it for him. Logan won’t eat beans but that is another option for protein if she will eat it. Quinoa (a grain with similar texture to couscous) is also high in protein.

      I definitely feel for you on the power struggle. We have several with Logan and I’d like eating to NOT be one of them.

      • WOW! You hit the nail on the head! She’s just recently gotten into the HP book series! Didn’t even let a 3″ thick book scare her off! I’m going to look into that cookbook. Trouble is, she has zero desire to help in the kitchen (or anywhere else, unless money is involved). I did get her to try quinoa and of course she hated it (I LOOOVE it! I even put it in salads for the protein).

        Thanks for the quick response!

        • Diane, you could also try baking with quinoa flour if she doesn’t like cooked quinoa. Also look for ways to incorporate other high protein foods into the food she does eat, for instance, cottage cheese baked into lasagna (if that is something she enjoys) or incorporating nuts or nut butters into meals.

  12. katie, thanks for sharing this post. i have a problem feeder myself. while we work at it little by little, i think the thing i can find so discouraging is when other people say, “don’t cater to him, just give him what you eat…if he’s hungry he’ll eat.” i think we as moms get so eager to share the strategies that work in our family, that we don’t notice when we’re judging each other or that it is possible that another child’s problem may be different or more serious than one you’ve experienced. it’s good to remember we’re all moms doing our best to raise healthy children, and we all struggle enough with mommy guilt, thinking every problem we face is somehow our fault. your post and suggestions are similar to things we’re working on, but as you said, it’s an on-going journey!

    • I totally agree, Rikki! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard comments like that and cringed. I think, generally speaking, most people don’t understand what a problem feeder entails if they are so lucky to not have one in their family. A problem feeder will rarely (never?) give in to the “if he’s hungry, he’ll eat” circumstance. With our problem feeder putting him in that position just made him even more unhappy around food.

    • Rikki, one of my goals with this series is to show people how just because one method works for one child, doesn’t mean it’s right for all children. We’ll review several in hopes to encourage parents to try to figure out what works well with their child. :)

  13. Thanks so much for this… I have 3 kids and all 3 of them are very tiny.. my first (my BIG problem feeder) was a preemie who is now in Kindergarten and has speech issues that are being resolved.. I see some sensory issues with him mostly in regards to eating and feelies(stuffed animals that have a ‘feel’ to them). He eats lots of carbs… bread, crackers, pasta.. lives on peanut butter sandwiches and grilled cheeses and cheese quesidillas….He will sometimes eat apples.. used to eat applesauce.. like cereal and milk and waffles… but as far as meals go- its really hard to get a family meal on the table and not have it be a battle… he will sometimes eat corn or green peas but that’s not all the time.. so I try to make at least 1 thing on the plate that he likes (or did at one point) and regardless it becomes a battle… chicken and meat give him trouble.. bites have to be very small and still sometimes gets the watery eyes and I’m gonna gag look with a very small peice of plain chicken in his mouth.. this is very difficult for my husband who is a ‘foodie’ I’m tend to be more on the side of picky eating – especially growing up… I’m better now… but I understand some of his fustration… he is the oldest of my kids and seems to be setting an example of my youngest son… who was a great eater and has hit toddlerhood and is changing (don’t know if its a stage or not but I’m wanting to figure it out before it gets carried away) I did just buy the book you suggested — Taking the Fight out of Food.. I’m really looking forward to it… I’m hoping it will help.. glad to know there are others out there with similar issues.. I feel I must be doing something wrong that my kid would just rather not eat than eat something new (or old and used to like too)….I’m tired of the dinner time battles…

  14. This post is very helpful information- sending it along to a family member with similar food issues. Thanks Katie!

  15. Your story sounds just like my daughter. She became so picky it was effecting her growth and development. I’m grateful that I found this site http://childrenandbabiesnoteating.com/ . Before that I didn’t know there was such a thing as a feeding therapist, much less the differences between them. It helped me understand what was happening and find the help Bella needed. I’m so glad that your son is eating so much more now. I like the idea of adding something monthly (baby steps!).

  16. I’m so happy I’ve found this site.

    my son eats a selective ‘variety’ of foods, a few different processed forms of protien, enough fruit and vegetables for some colour variation and a selection of baked produce. but most of the ‘picky eater’ advice I’ve seen published in the uk assumes that children will eat sauces that you can ‘sneak’ additional foods into, I am so frustrated by being offered pasta recipes which my son won’t touch as a solution to getting more variety into his diet.

    I have to wipe the oil from the top of pizza before he’ll even consider touching it, he definitely won’t eat anything ‘wet’, no sauce, no milk on cereal, no yogurt etc etc.

    having recently seen him eat a ‘burger’ we made together with three vegetables not on his ‘list’ whizzed up in the processor and added to ground beef, I’m on the hunt for other ways to incorporate new foods into his diet. I really like the idea of incorporating wholegrains into baking – he seems to love baking at the moment so maybe this is a good way of getting him to try new foods in something he has created.

  17. A friend sent this link to me, so glad she did! We also have a problem feeder. He is 2 1/2 and in therapy since December. We have seen some slow small progress, but it can be so frustrating. My son is not underweight and our pediatrician was not concerned, we pursued OT on our own. It has been such a struggle for me because we do not know anyone else whose children have issues like ours. Just reading the posts from others who are in the same position we are is so comforting. We too hear from other to just give him what we “want” him to eat and he won’t let himself starve- haha, he will go very hungry before he will eat something he does not want to! Then he stands at the pantry and cries- as a mommy, it is heart wrenching! I like the idea of focusing on 1-2 new foods per month- we may have to try that too. We will just keep on trying,praying for progress and hope that baby sister won’t be the same way with food!

  18. A friend of me just sent me this link and I love your blog!

    We aslo have a big time problem feeder who has been diagnosed with a food aversion and most recently infantile anorexia. And I agree with previous commenters about the frustration that comes from others telling us to stop worrying and that he will eat when he “gets hungry enough.” Not true. He is currently 15 months and we have been struggling since he was 6 months (weighed 16.5 pounds) — when he stopped gaining weight almost entirely 9 months ago (currently 19 pounds). Our pediatrician has said we can go maybe one more month before we need to look into a feeding tube if he doesn’t start gaining.

    We do see a therapist 2x/week who is very optimistic and so far we are seeing teeny improvements. But it is a long and frustrating and exhausting road.

    I saw that you were browsing books on Amazon and I would very highly recommend “Taking the Fight out of Food” and also the “Food Chaining — the Proven 6 step Program…”

    Taking the Fight out of Food did not have a ton of helpful advice for our problem eater, but I felt like it had really great insights regarding our other older kids and how to help kids be responsible for their own bodies. Anybody who has kids should read that book!

    It sounds like your son Logan is doing well with the Food Chaining methods — that book would be helpful for you as well.

    Good luck to you and your family!

  19. Great topic to discuss here!!! The recipe you have discussed here seemed tasty and delicious too. But can you please publish any recipe that I can prepare myself as Picnic Recipes? It is useful to learn something like Picnic Recipes so that we can prepare quickly and take with us when we go for any tour. Please share if you have something like that…

  20. Sounds good!!! Your efforts are really commendable. I accept Rachel’s point of view and add only this that kids are always inventive and adventurous, may it be in their playing or in their eating. Always they find new ways to eat and that causes me lots of problem. I am suffering from my knee pain and can hardly stand in front of gas to prepare delicious foods. Still I like your effort and congratulate you sharing this…

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