6 Rules For Picky Eaters and Sensory Problems

Food to expand on for sensory and picky eaters
Food to expand on for sensory and picky eaters

It’s that time again! You hear the soundtrack of Jaws in the background as you head to the dining room table to serve dinner. “He better eat dinner” I mumble. Mealtime was the absolute worst for me. My son was diagnosed with Autism and a sensory disorder. I notice when he would be appalled by certain textures and gag to the point that he would vomit. It has not been easy, that is for sure. I realized this was more than just picky eating. It can be hard to decipher between sensory issues and picky eaters. I have outlined for you 6 Rules For Picky Eaters and Sensory Problems

Yes, we all know that toddlers are savages. They are mini-bosses running around demanding attention and snacks. However, if you have a child with sensory processing disorder or a picky eater, mealtime is the equivalent of a root canal without the numbing effects.

I am here to share some advice and tips with you from my own trials and what has worked for us in feeding therapy. I am excited to share these six rules for picky eaters and sensory problems.

Rule # 1 Do not give up

Yes, I know! What a corny thing to say. Especially as you sit there with spaghetti on your head from food flying all over. After you say a few prayers, maybe even a little “serenity now repetitions (Seinfeld fans will get this reference) you have to remember that mealtime needs to be calm. The more stress and pressure you put on your child, the more retaliation there will be. Keep trying to complete dinner, but know your end goal. Try to understand that they can get uncomfortable with sensory problems. These rules for picky eaters and sensory kids should be put in place for good structure.

Try with a few spoonfuls and see how it goes. If you feel you are not getting anywhere, try to understand what the problem is. Are they not comfortable, do they need a little distraction like a toy or maybe their book? Anything that will calm the mood, I say go for it. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be able to eat if someone was screaming in my face. I know we all lose our cool, especially after trying to make a meal and someone refuses to eat. Start small and build up slowly. Following these 6 rules for picky eaters and sensory problems will make things easier, I am proof!

young boy refusing food

Rule #2 Mess is best

For SPD kids, getting their hands messy and involved with different textures actually helps. My son HATED being dirty. He refused to have anything on his hands and face. He would cry and whine and freak out a little. I at first, would run to get a wipe to clean him. WRONG! Then I realized this was setting him back. His SPD is so severe, he gags and will throw up at the sight of some foods.

We then started playing with food and things he has aversions to. Some ideas are pudding, jello, bananas, and even slime. I can tell you that daily exposure has drastically reduced his anxiety around food and has opened him up to trying new things. Try sensory activities 1-2 times a day with food and without. You can add this as an extra rule for picky eaters and sensory problems.

Rule # 3 Taste and See

When I want to introduce a new food, I don’t allow Aiden to see the food first. Why you may ask? Because he automatically will assume this is something he hates, he knows it is new and then it’s vomit central. I very sneakingly take a little of the food and place it on his lip. He then licks the food and determines if he is interested. I take this queue and then show him the new food. He is then curious or opposed. I allow him to show me at his own pace, what he will accept.

I have accepted that he also has things he just doesn’t like or won’t eat and I have to be okay with this. As long as your child is thriving and getting nutrients, that is all that matters.

Rule #4 No snacks, don’t fall back

That’s right I said it. No snacks before mealtime. I do not want your child to starve and I am not a mean mama, but you want your child to be hungry for the meal. My recommendation is to feed them meals and then have snacks spread out over a 2 hour period. So let’s say you eat dinner at 6. Their snack time should have been at 4 pm. No, Johnny can’t have Doritos at 5:30 pm and be hungry for dinner.

If you want to expose them to eating properly at mealtime and actually want to try new foods, then I highly suggest you do this. I also would suggest no large consumption of water, juice or milk before mealtime.

Rule # 5  Don’t be a punk

Now listen, I know how hard it is and how terrifying toddlers are. I sometimes daydream of being stuck in my bathroom, just so I don’t have to come out for a few hours and face the music. Remember that you are the parent. You need to be strong and lead by example. Don’t cower when they say no or possibly hit you in the eyeball with a pea.

Stand your ground and in a loving tone, advise your toddler or child that we are all going to eat dinner nicely. I have found that taking turns has really helped. I allow Aiden to feed me and then it’s his turn to take a bite. I use the 15-minute rule as well. If we are still getting nowhere in 15 minutes then we take a break and return in 5 minutes. Don’t let this go on for an hour and give them food poisoning. You obviously will know in your soul when enough is enough. Always refer to these rules for picky eaters and sensory problems when you are having a rough time.

Rule # 6  Praise them

Sorry I couldn’t figure out a catchy title for this one. I digress! The best thing you can do during this difficult time is to praise your child. When they take a bite, pick up utensils, touch the food or anything relative to moving in the “ I may eat” direction, I praise. This will make your child want to do more and will also help calm the dreary mood of mealtime.

Every child is different and even as adults, we all have different food preferences. I suggest keeping a journal of the flavors and textures that are working and ones that are not. You can start building from a base with foods and then adding things in for additional nutrients.  For food and some great info visit:

https://tampabaymoms.com/health-wellness/5-lunch-ideas-for-the-picky-toddler

https://blog.brainbalancecenters.com/2014/07/sensory-friendly-foods-child-will-love

If your child persists with having difficulty with eating, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician to see if it is something more like a sensory disorder. I hope these 6 rules for picky eaters and sensory problems will assist you in your struggles at mealtime and make your life a lot easier!

Amanda Moran
Amanda graduated from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania with her Bachelors of Science in Business Management. She is an honored member of Sigma Beta Delta. Amanda is a relatively new Floridian who moved here from Pennsylvania in 2017. While she definitely misses the seasons, she is getting acclimated to all the beach time Florida has to offer. Amanda has been with her loving husband Oscar for 16 years and in 2017 they welcomed their first baby boy (now almost 3). He truly is the joy of their lives and was diagnosed with Autism in 2019. In her limited spare time, Amanda enjoys making people laugh, cooking and spending quality time with her family and friends. When she isn’t chasing after her toddler or cleaning 500 dishes, Amanda works for The Walt Disney Company and she helps makes dreams come true by hiring top talent!