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How Meal Planning Can Help Picky Eaters

Posted Jan 23 2013 7:19am

Super Healthy Kids has taught us all how valuable meal planning is.  We know that it can help us spend less at the store, be more organized, and keep our stress down.  But, did you know that meal planning might help improve what a picky eater, eats?  As a mom and occupational therapist I have seen how hard it is to put together a meal for kids that don't eat a large variety of foods at the last minute.  Typically, by the time dinner rolls around, it just seems easier to feed that "picky" eater whatever they are going to eat anyways.  It is too much effort and might seem like a waste of time to bother with something they aren't going to eat anyways.  Of course, this a dangerous line of thought.  By serving kids the same few foods, we will just reinforce their preference for these foods or worse, they will burn out on them and eat even less variety.  

The first step towards improving a picky eater's variety is coming up with a game plan.  It is important to have a balance between foods your kid likes and ones they don't.  If you don't have anything on the plate that they are willing to eat, then they may become anxious or overwhelmed and bail on the meal all together.  Striking this balance of challenging non preferred foods and comfortable preferred foods can be challenging to say the least.  This is where meal planning comes in.  If you need some help getting started or a quick review check out Meal Planning Basics here .  Amy and Natalie have discussed how  meal planning gives you the opportunity to increase variety- well, that is the ultimate goal with a picky eater.  So, here are a few reasons why these meal plans are such a valuable tool to help those less than willing participants.

  • Ensuring a Preferred Food- Meal planning gives you the organization to make sure you have those comforting and familiar foods ready at each meal for your picky eater. As I already mentioned, this is key for the whole meal not going down the drain- literally. I would strongly suggest that you sit down and make a list of all the foods your kid eats at least 50% of the time.  Put these foods into three categories- starch/carbs, fruits/veggies, and proteins.  Most people are surprised at how many foods are actually on the list.  Now make sure at least 1 of these is present at each meal.  
  • Calculated Exposure to New or Non preferred foods- Look at the foods on that list you made of all the foods they eat, do you notice any patterns? Are they eating only crunchy, soft, or white foods? If so, try to plan some meals that gradually take them a little out of their comfort zone.  With each meal that you plan, slowly make small changes to some of the foods they eat.  For example, if you noticed that your kid seems to be avoiding anything with a mushy texture, but they love crunchy foods, then try to plan for some meals with foods that have crunchy outsides and soft insides.  It all may be in how you prepare the food.  
The organization and stress factor that meal planning brings is even more important for the picky eater because parents of picky eaters are more likely to be more stressed and disorganized at meals.  Meal planning probably won't take away all of the stress because now you have to work on getting your kid to eat some of these non preferred foods, but it will help a lot.  And, the less stressed we are as parents during meal time, the better our kids will eat.  If you are looking for more strategies to help with your picky eater click , here , and here .  
Alisha Grogan, MOTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist that specializes in feeding difficulties and sensory integration in the Pittsburgh area.  Also, the mom of two wonderful boys under three and blogger at  Your Kid's Table , which combines all her feeding and sensory knowledge as a mom and OT.  You can also find her on  FacebookTwitter , and  Pinterest .    
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