Thinking of introducing healthy food for picky eaters? Picky eating is a situation where a child or adult prefers only a particular set of foods and beverages.
There is often a high level of reluctance to try other types of food. In milder cases, this isn’t a problem because the child or adult can adapt to the situation somewhat by trying at least a small quantity of new food). However, in extreme cases of picky eating, a person only eats only a handful of food types (or sometimes, just one kind of food), and he/she does so for years.
Extreme cases of picky eating can cause a person just to eat one type of food, like pizza or ice cream bars, and the idea of just trying new food can trigger feelings of physical revulsion.
Assisting a child or adult who shows signs of picky eating is important because they can become easily malnourished if they don’t have the internal willpower to fix how they eat.
Of course, small children and pre-teens have less control over what they do, so adults have to help by deciding for them what they must eat daily.
Is picky eating a sign of autism?
Some autistic individuals can show signs of picky eating, but it’s not a major sign of this developmental issue. The first task of an adult caring for an autistic individual with a picky eating tendency is to rule out other possible reasons why the behavior is being exhibited.
Do remember that autism is a spectrum, and each ‘pass’ in the autism spectrum brings with it unique challenges and factors that have to be taken into consideration. Picky eating should not be used for determining whether a person is autistic or not.
Psychology of Picky Eaters
Picky eating is more commonly observed in children because there is an instinctual component to it. Children develop and exhibit the “disgust response“ about tasting novel food items. In time, however, as a child grows up and understands how the world works, the “disgust response” goes away, or at least, is regulated to more reasonable levels.
Take note also that children learn what to eat by watching what others in the family eat. So a child that grew up eating fried turkey legs, mac and cheese, and other fatty foods will have some trouble adapting to a new diet that features lots of fresh fruit and moderately cooked vegetables. Eating is as much a biological action as it is a product of behavioral molding from childhood.
Whether you are dealing with a child or an adult, you must avoid adding too much stress to the activity of getting him/her to eat new food. In children, eating disorders are often triggered like sleeper bombs because some children are forced to eat stuff they don’t like.
Every person is unique, so what doesn’t matter to you, or what has the least impact on you, can have an explosive and long-lasting impact on other people. It’s just how psychological responses work because we come from different backgrounds, and we have different tolerances to the things that we experience in life.
Can you reward a child for eating new things? Perhaps once or twice, but on the whole, there is no proof that rewarding kinds after eating food items that they consider disgusting have any positive effect on their behaviors on the whole. This may be since kids (especially the older ones) understand the concept of rewards, and they maybe do something for the benefit, but the action itself does not resolve the root of the behavior as we know it.
How to Fix a Picky Eater
The best approach so far, especially with kids that don’t know yet how to rationalize things in their lives, is to decide what is served in the dining table and then allow the picky eater to decide how much of the new food he/she is going to eat.
This approach integrates the concept of gradual exposure, which is also used extensively in psychotherapeutically treating problems like this one. Through gradual exposure and by integrating the idea of self-control, people can overcome things like phobias and picky eating.
How many times does a person have to see and eat something new before he/she considers it acceptable?
According to experts, the average person needs to encounter a new food item a whopping 10 to 20 times before acceptance, and normalization finally takes place. So you must be patient with picky eaters because lifelong changes to their diet are not going to take place with just one tasting or exposure. It’s going to be an ongoing effort to help a picky eater overcome his pickiness.
Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters
What should a picky eater eat? What are healthy meals for picky eaters?
Picky eaters don’t have special dietary needs; they’re just particular with what they want to eat. So the answer to this question is the same answer for everyone else on Earth. Picky eaters need to consume meals that have a good mix of macronutrients and micronutrients. Grains, lean cuts of meat, vegetables, fruit, and dairy – this has always been a good combination, and they provide a good overview of the spectrum of food items that are best for the development of the body. If you have a kid at home who doesn’t want to try anything else, the following food items might rekindle his/her interest in trying new things:
- High-fiber biscuits with dark chocolate
- Fresh juice made with vegetables and fruits
- Smoothies made with chocolate, fruits, and vegetables
- Oatmeal bars paired with fruit
- Baked oatmeal with fruits and other whole food ingredients
- Soups and broths made with meats and vegetables
- Homemade pizza where you get to control the toppings
- Dishes with lots of cheese (you can eat broccoli and other veggies easily because the cheese will mostly mask the vegetable flavors)