Addressing Eating Behavior Challenges  Strategies for Helping During Mealtime

If you’re the parent or caregiver of a picky eater, you may find mealtime to be a constant battle. According to a 2019 study from Penn State College of Medicine, children with autism are 15 times more likely than other children to have mealtime issues. These can include sensory challenges with food, restrictive food selections, rituals surrounding their eating habits and temper tantrums at the dining table.  

If your child doesn’t have a medical issue that’s causing their selective eating behavior, you can try to improve their mealtime habits by implementing these tactics:  

Identify and Pick One Goal  

Whether it’s increasing the number of foods your child will eat, having them sit quietly at the dining table or getting them to eat more in general, just choose one goal to work on with your child.  

Take Baby Steps  

When trying to get your child to taste a new food, only offer the tiniest amount. Let them touch, smell and look at it before trying it. You can even mix it into a food that they already like, so they may not even be able to taste it.  

Exercise Patience  

Be patient as you try to get your child to eat a certain food. They may dislike something at first, but on the ninth, tenth or thirteenth time, they may finally like it. However, if your child is still pushing away the food after a dozen-plus tries, consider testing another food.  

Set Clear Expectations  

Let your child know that you’d like them to try one new food at dinner, or that they’re expected to sit at the table for 10 minutes. Using a timer where the child can see the minutes counting down can be helpful.   

Pile on the Praise 

Be sure to give your child plenty of praise to help reinforce positive behaviors when they try a new food or improve their habits.  

Enjoy Your Meals Together  

Make your time at the dinner table a positive and shared experience. In fact, let your child play with their food. By staying calm and getting creative, eating will become less of a chore for your child and more about having fun together.   

Reach Out for Additional Help 

If you feel like you’ve tried everything on this list and your child is still refusing to eat most things, consult with your child’s doctor or a behavioral therapist to find out how they can help.