The eating struggle


Angry child eating

Cropped image. Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr. CC license.

The toddler age is characterized by a constant recording of “No.”

“Sweetie, let’s play on the playground?” “No!”

“Honey, do you want to play with your brother?” “No.”

Sometimes the constant “no” makes us feel like we’re going insane. But nowhere is it more vexing than hearing “no” at meal times. No to veggies. No to chicken. No pasta. You get the idea. Ugh! As parents, we’re left in complete frustration and worry. We wonder how we’re going to get the right nutrients into our child. Grandma tries. Grandpa tries. The toddler wins with screaming and crying while our heads pound. Does this sound like you?

Picky eating is common

First of all, I want to reassure you that you aren’t alone. Hundreds of parents face the same struggle as you. Picky eating one of the biggest dilemmas parents face today.

Toddlers go through a normal stage of development called neophobia. In this stage, a toddler will reject foods for no particular reason or pattern. As adults, we take this refusal as preference, but it is a real stage of development. The rule of thumb is to offer a food item to your child at least 10 times. This gives your child the ability to distinguish taste and develop true likes and dislikes. Also, give your child the chance to play with food. Present them with frozen foods such as green beans, corn or peas, and then move to items such as cheese sticks, celery or carrots. Activities with pudding and yogurt are also fun! For most children, if they can play with food then they can accept food.

That’s great advice, but my child is still picky.

If your child continues to reject foods and is at a stage where he or she will eat 15 foods or fewer, it’s time to seek help. It’s important you work with a professional who is a trained feeding therapist. A feeding therapist can be an occupational therapist or speech therapist.

A therapist first checks to see if a child has good strength in the jaw, lip and tongue. If a child doesn’t have that strength, it’s hard to chew or bite food, or even keep food in her mouth. Further, a child with a weak jaw, lip or tongue is at risk for choking. It is likely that she has already choked and remembers.

For some children, their pickiness surrounds delayed eating patterns. Children with delayed eating patterns will not be ready for foods as fast as the charts on Google say they are. These children struggle with the different levels of food and will get stuck at one certain stage. For example, they will only eat Stage 2 foods and not 3, or they will only eat biscuits that breakdown in saliva. They have figured out what is safe.

For other children, it is about the taste, smell or texture. These children are your sensory eaters. They may have different sensitivities throughout the structures of their mouth. They have learned to reject everything except soft foods like cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese. They become resistant and will limit their diet to less than 10 foods. They will not eat no matter what. These children could require intensive therapy.

Help is available

Picky eating can be helped. There is a solution; it doesn’t have to be a lifetime of struggles. Start by talking to your doctor. If warranted, see a therapist. Trust your gut instinct as a parent. The person who knows your child the best is you. Know that we are there to help you if you need us.

– Magda Girao, OTRL CST-D, works in pediatric rehabilitation at the Beaumont Health Center.

Help for your picky eater

Messy little girl feeding herself with a spoon

Unaltered image. Matt Preston, Flickr. CC license.

Having a picky eater can be quite a challenge. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you through your journey.

  • Have fun by giving familiar foods a catchy name.
    • Turn broccoli into “little trees”.
    • Serve a “sunshine sandwich” instead of grilled cheese.
    • Offer “bunny food” instead of veggie sticks or salad.
  • Cut food into shapes (cookie cutters are a great tool) or present it in a fun way (like a smiley face).
  • Serve smaller portion sizes. Have you noticed that kids like things served in little cups or on toothpicks?
  • Take your child shopping with you and have him pick some healthy foods. You may be surprised when he chooses a mango, kiwi, or bok choy because of how it looks, feels or sounds like.
  • Let you child cook with you. A child is more likely to try something she helped make.
  • Younger children like foods they can pick up themselves, so think “finger foods” like chunks or slices.
  • Talk about what the food looks like: color, shape, aroma, texture. You don’t need to focus on taste.
  • Talk about food’s benefits.
    • One mom told her son that Brussels sprouts were “super green balls of power” and they would make him big and strong. He loved them!
    • Remind them that milk helps their teeth grow strong.
  • If your child has trouble with a texture, remember that texture can be changed.
    • Don’t mash foods as smoothly. Leave some lumps.
    • Offer a crunchy cracker to dip into a “mushy” food like applesauce.
    • Serve foods in a different format, like apple slices instead of applesauce or a baked sweet potato instead of mashed.
  • Make sure your child takes a “no thank you” bite. It can take several times of trying (10 – 15 times!) a food before a child decides to like it.
  • The earlier you introduce a food, the more willing a child is to accept it.
  • Don’t offer your child an alternate or “special” meal. If he knows that’s an option, he’ll be more resistant to trying new things. But make sure there’s something you know she’ll like to eat on her plate.
  • Consider enrolling in the Little Munchers and Big Crunchers program offered through Beaumont Children’s Center for Children’s Rehabilitation.
  • If you have nutritional concerns, talk to your pediatrician.

The Goodness of Homemade Baby Food

Ann in Baby food class

Have you ever thought about making your own baby food? Homemade baby food can be reassuring because you know exactly what goes into the food you serve. You avoid preservatives and fillers, which can be especially helpful when babies have food allergies or sensitivities.

Did you know homemade baby food is also:

  • Nutritious? By choosing fruits and vegetables that are either in season or frozen (which are picked at the peak of freshness) you help retain nutrients. You can also opt for grains, meats, beans and lentils.
  • Versatile? As baby grows and chewing abilities develop, you can prepare food as thick or chunky as your child can manage.
  • A cost-savings? Preparing your own baby food can be less expensive than buying commercial food.

Getting started can feel daunting though. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, come join our interactive class!

In one night, we’ll talk about necessary equipment and supplies, different cooking methods, and safe storage options. Most importantly, we’ll prepare several recipes from the first introduction of solids moving into finger foods.

You’ll leave with a wealth of information, a handout and a great booklet of baby recipes like the one below.

Our next class will be on March 24, 2014. We’ll meet at the Beaumont Health Center at 4949 Coolidge Highway, Royal Oak, MI 48073 from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. The cost is $15 per person, but there’s no fee for Parenting Program volunteers.

To sign up, call (248) 633-7377 or register online.

We look forward to seeing you!

Apple Puree
For babies 6 months and up
(Recipe from Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes)


  • 6 apples, quartered and cored just before cooking (Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, Golden and Red Delicious are naturally sweet).


  1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a saucepan. Put apples in a steamer basket, set in pan. Cover and steam until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes or longer if necessary.
  2. Let cool, reserving cooking liquid. Scrape flesh from skins and puree in a food processor until smooth. Add reserved cooking liquid to thin puree if desired.


  • Refrigerate cooled apple puree in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
  • To freeze: spoon individual portions into ice-cube trays or other baby food freezer containers and freeze up to 3 months.

Cooking apples with the skin on retains more nutrients. Golden, Red Delicious and Fuji are least acidic, making them good choices for baby.